Networking events can be awkward and uncomfortable. Your anxieties are on high alert. You don't know anyone there. You're afraid you'll want to leave right away. "Why isn't anyone talking to me?". "Why aren't I talking to anyone else?". You'd rather be watching Netflix, catching up on sleep, or cleaning the toilet.
Why would anyone want to go through that?
Networking expert Michael Goldberg, in his Ted Talk about personal networking, states that there are 5 reasons people network:
- get more business
- land a job
- learn something
- make friends
- solve a problem
Do you have any of those goals? If so, consider attending a professional networking event.
Last Tuesday night I walked into a Network After Work event as a nervous rookie networker, but left with new connections, open doors and some realizations.
Here are the takeaways.
HELLO, MY NAME IS...
After I arrived, the hostess checked my name off a list and gestured towards the sticker station. There were about 6 colors of stickers to choose from, each representing a group of related industries. I filled out two stickers, wrote "banking" on the blue one and "video/film" on the green one, slapped them on my jacket and faced the crowded and noisy room of hustling and bustling networkers.
"...it was great simply getting out and meeting people that are motivated and passionate."
SET A GOAL
Have you ever walked away from a conversation wishing you had given the other person your business card? Handing out my business card to new contacts isn't part of my routine yet, so it happens to me often. My goal for the event was to introduce myself, and give my business card, to at least 15 people in my industries.
Setting this goal ahead of time helped me to remember to offer my card as soon as it was clear we shared the same goals or may be able to help each other in some way down the road. I ordered my current cards from Vistaprint but I've also used MOO in the past. When all was said and done, I had given out 13 business cards and had met even more interesting and energetic people pursuing their dreams.
At one point I met Ann Sanderson, the founder and CEO of a photography business. She asked me what my goal was for attending the event. I said I was there to meet 3 kinds of people, the folks looking for an operations manager, the ones looking for video/film work, and the ones that just want to play some tennis.
By the way, if you're looking for a great way to get professional photos for your websites and online portfolios, check out Ann's business at Fotosnap.co.
With so many people talking to each other in a crowded room, how do you get noticed and start conversations? I read once that a good way to stand out is to wear something unique, like an interesting watch, a ring, ear rings, a necklace, etc, to give something for others to comment on.
I found an interesting conversation starter simply by putting on two name tags, one for each industry I was interested in. This started a few conversations for me and gave me the chance to network with a wider audience.
Listening is critical to all parts of life, including networking events. Julian Treasure gives a TED talk called 5 Ways to Listen Better. In it, he offers the acronym R.A.S.A. which stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize & Ask, and suggests that the skill of listening be formally taught in schools.
“Talk to someone about themselves and they'll listen for hours.”
Later on in the evening a gentleman approached me and said "I understand you make promo videos. I'm looking for someone to produce a video for my new business". Someone had been listening and connecting the dots to make our introduction happen.
You'll find listening on many lists of "leadership skills". Why? Real listening can lead to real understanding. Understanding the needs of others is essential to becoming a better leader, and a better networker.
Later in the evening I found myself discussing video marketing trends with two gentlemen. The one in the brown blazer suggested I look up a Portland company called Brandlive. After the event I researched the company and found that they're looking to hire someone with my qualifications, so...I applied for the role.
Within a 5 minute conversation, the gentlemen in the brown blazer offered information that could potentially help me land an exciting new job. That's what I call adding value.
As nervous as I was beforehand, I admit it was great simply getting out and meeting people that are motivated and passionate.
I met SarahJoy Smith, previous owner and operator of Pure Joy Consulting. Sarah recently moved to Portland from Seattle and is looking for Marketing, Communications and Business Development opportunities. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.
A friend of mine, Vinay Prasad, also attended the event and I bumped into him unexpectedly shortly after arriving. He makes a point to attend networking events on occasion just to stay connected with others in the hospital and health care field. Here is his LinkedIn profile.
ARE NETWORKING EVENTS REALLY WORTH IT?
Yes! New ideas, more knowledge, finding inspiration, solving problems, connecting like-minded people, expanding your network...
Why would anyone want to go through that?
What is your experience with networking events? Are networking events really worth it to you? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.
Here are a few resources I came across while writing this article.
- 6 Effective Ways Listening Can Make You a Better Leader
- 19 Ways To 'Kill It' at Your Next Networking Event
- Cover image credit
Click the screen below to watch Michael Goldberg speak on Personal Networking at TEDx.