At our annual conference, we’ve discovered that one thing attendees come hoping to do is make the most of the networking opportunities the event affords. For many people, the word “networking” evokes hesitation and even fear. We often associate the art of networking with a forced effort to meet every person in the room through something like a speed networking exercise, or the aimless collection of business cards. However, networking is a key component to expanding our personal and professional circles and creates unbelievable opportunities.
What does it take to have a successful networking experience at your annual conference or meeting?
Jodi Brockington, founder of Friends of Jodi and NIARA Consulting, a full service marketing and business development company, suggests that a successful networking experience comes with a plan of action. “You MUST have a networking strategy—you cannot just wing it. Networking is an art and vital to your career success, but you must have a vision for doing it right.”
With all this in mind, here are some tips to connect, create, and cultivate new relationships at the Healthy Teen Network conference and other events.
THE MASTER PLAN
Networking Is A Two-Way Street
When you ask “What’s in it for the other party—not just what’s in it for me,” you seek to be a useful resource to others. An effective networking relationship should be mutually beneficial to each party. The goal of networking is to make a connection, so your mission is to be a connector of people, ideas, and information. Everyone has something to give, whether it’s time, talent, or performance. You get value by giving value, so make yourself worth getting to know.
Who You DON’T Know Will Hurt You
It’s perfectly fine to step out of your comfort zone and meet other professionals from other organizations. If you believe in six degrees of separation, then you know that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. If you’re looking to expand your network, then you’ll find that the theory holds true—even down to as few as two or three degrees sometimes. You should network laterally, vertically, and horizontally. Never underestimate the power of the grapevine. There is a wealth of information just waiting to be exchanged with people that you don’t know.
Quality Not Quantity
Networking is more than collecting business cards and contact information at a networking event. Brockington suggests that conference attendees “focus on making a few high-quality connections. People who network merely to collect business cards have completely missed the mark. You can’t meet 50 people at a three-day conference and expect to remember their names or instantly have a viable network. It takes time, but you must start and continue at it.” People want to connect on a deeper level than spending five minutes with an individual and then moving on to the next person. Take advantage of opportunities before and after conference sessions to connect with fellow attendees. Exploring the host city on a venture out of the hotel/conference center or a chat during conference meals are a couple ways to network within the time constraints of busy conference agendas. Early-career professionals want to meet seasoned colleagues who can help them learn the ropes. Experienced professionals desire to tap and amplify their existing network. Everyone turns to events to make connections with like-minded people who will share knowledge, opportunities, and ideas that will help them do their job faster, better, and easier.
Outside of being armed with business cards and a charged cellular phone/tablet, approachability and likability is key. First impressions are lasting impressions, so be certain to make eye contact, focus on remembering the other person’s name, and use it in the conversation.
Be interested in what the other person is saying, but don’t be afraid to shake up the conversation. Who’s to say that the topic of conversation has to stay within the confines of work? Discover what that person’s interests are outside of the office (e.g. philanthropic work, hobbies, etc.). Why not test the six degrees of separation theory to see if you have acquaintances in common based on personal or professional backgrounds (e.g. hometown, current residence, school, fraternal organizations, etc.)?
THE FOLLOW UP
Managing Your Connections
Having a strong network requires relationship building. Stay plugged in to your network after your conference/meeting concludes with a follow up email or a handwritten note, a gesture that is becoming a long lost art. The general rule of thumb is that any follow-up correspondence should take place no later than 48 hours after meeting someone, but never longer than a week. In addition to an email or handwritten note, the use of social media is another popular way to build relationships with colleagues (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).
Remember that networking isn’t about being the most extroverted, or just passing out a stack of business cards, promoting yourself, or making a sales pitch. There is commonality that can be found in exchanging information and experiences. Take the time to connect, create, and cultivate opportunities for you, the other party, and your individual networks as well.
We hope to see you—and network with you—soon at the Healthy Teen Network conference!
How do you make the most of conferences and other events?
What networking tips would you share with a colleague?
Rita Lassiter is the Meeting and Event Planner at Healthy Teen Network.