Going in with a plan makes networking events less painful. Ok, maybe they’re just painful for me. As an introvert, it is sheer torture to be stuck in a crowded room full of people shouting to make small talk.
I always felt a bit awkward trying to introduce myself to strangers and make small talk. Standing silently, a drink in hand, in a cluster around a couple of extroverts going to town with their stories.
I eventually would retire to a dark corner to stand by myself and watch the room, wondering why I was even there.
I can’t remember a single time that a traditional networking event ever generated a new opportunity for me. No new jobs. No new clients. No new partners. Not once in my 26-year Tech career.
Derek Coburn talks about a similar realization in his book, “Networking is Not Working.”
“Like most professionals, I thought the best way to grown my business was to network. And the primary way to do that was to attend networking events… I did have the reasonable expectation, I thought, that I was going to meet and connect with other professionals in a meaningful way and, eventually, welcome some amazing new clients to my practice. Unfortunately, this was an expectation that rarely realized itself.”
But, I think I was going about the whole networking process in the wrong way, led astray by these clumsy events with a name tag on my chest and a drink in my hand. Although, I did get to meet the Plumbing Parts King of Manhattan once.
I also think that it took me quite a few years to understand how to redefine networking to play to my strengths and needs. I’ve since learned some strategies for getting the most out of networking situations.
Like most things, it starts with better planning in advance, long before you’re awkwardly standing there trying to figure out what to say to some stranger. I have a list of tips at the end of this story.
There are three types of people when it comes to networking events:
Networking events are always amazing!
Networking events are a waste of time
Networking events are useful if…
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Networking events are always amazing
These folks love networking. They’re the ones who always seem to be on the conference and event circuit. I’ve also noticed that they tend to be extroverts. They know everyone, and everyone knows their name.
They believe that building your network is always a good investment, even if there is no obvious opportunity. They meet as many people as possible and collect a pocketful of business cards. Many believe that you never know when good things will happen, and you never know when someone might be able to help you later.
I do agree with these folks, to some extent. Serendipity can be pretty amazing. On occasion, I have met some wonderful people at events. I enjoyed their company. Sometimes we even became friends and stayed in touch.
However, attending lots of events without a goal or a plan isn’t the best use of your precious time.
I don’t have much more to say about this. These people don’t need my help. They’re already enjoying extroverted networking heaven.