One of the steps to achieving a purposeful network is to, well, network. A common opportunity is a networking event – usually a reception of some kind, with people mingling over finger food and hovering around a cash bar. Conferences almost always have one at the beginning of the event – a welcome reception where all attendees are encouraged to congregate and mix with their colleagues and meet new people.
For those with less-than-extroverted personalities or who are newish to their field, these events are daunting – a sea of people in loose conglomerations of familiarity, a noisy and (depending on how long the event has been open) boisterous crowd, an unwelcoming assemblage of mostly unfamiliar faces, perhaps even some famous folks. But look closely and you’ll also see kindreds – individuals with a plate or a drink, shyly moving around and outside the crowds, looking just like you feel: like they’d rather be anywhere else, thinking when can they reasonably leave.
One of the elements of purposeful networking I described in Part 1 was goal setting. When attending a networking event, make a plan and have some goals. Like any good project plan, these will enable to you spend your time at the event purposefully, and to know when you’re done. I applied this approach at a recent conference.
Before arriving, I prepared by making myself knowledgeable about the who and what of the event. For the who, I reviewed the list of attendees and made note of people I knew and people that I wanted to meet (always with the “give to get” principle in mind). Then I reviewed the agenda, and noted which events I was going to be attending and who the presenters were for those. I didn’t memorize these, but I was familiar enough with them that I felt I could remember names and connections.
For the networking event (officially, the welcome reception), my goals were to meet four people:
At the welcome reception, I was able to achieve all four of these objectives. Right away, I saw someone from my “home” and said hello and chatted briefly about travel to the conference, the accommodations, the sessions we were looking forward to, the status of some work we were both involved in, other people that we were anticipating seeing at the conference. Next, I saw some of the conference organizing team talking together; I knew a few of them, but not all, so at a break in the conversation I said hello to the people I knew, and was introduced to the others. I had different connections with these people – the conference but also shared activities like teaching and mentoring – so the talk was no longer small.
After a while, I moved on to mingle. I walked through the room and around the outside of the main tables and circles. There was a woman standing on her own; she had a hand-written name tag, which I knew meant she was a late-registrant. I went over to her and initially we talked about what we both were in that moment: wallflowers. Although I’d been actively connecting for the past 20 minutes, I was taking a break and found a like-minded person. Turned out, she had only recently moved to Canada and was exploring career options in our field. As luck would have it, I’d just been speaking with someone who was looking for resources in her field, and did she want to meet them? Yes, please! We moved through the crowd to where I’d been talking with connections new and old just a few minutes previously. I introduced my new connection to the one who was looking for resources, and was clear about why I thought they’d be interested in one another. We all chatted for a while, learning about each others backgrounds, experience, needs, and opinions, and established good connections. After a while, I excused myself, and after a few more minutes of mingling…I left. Mission accomplished, in 45 minutes.
Having written all this out, I realize that it sounds cold and predatory – targeting specific types of people to check-off a to-do list, and getting out as quickly as possible. But it is only the how, not the why. Having a plan and a list of goals is a tool to accomplishing purposeful networking, but you still need to ensure that the connections you make are real and meaningful, or they really don’t “count” as connections. And the goal is NOT be to get through this as quickly as possible, but to be efficient and comfortable – while this may not be fun, it shouldn’t be tortuous.
Some other tips:
All of this is active well-digging – building and maintaining your network, keeping it active, and giving it purpose.
In my next post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Network (v.): to join things in an informally interconnected association of persons.
When I was first exploring my newly identified strength as a connector, a connection told me about the book “Dig Your Well Before Your Thirsty.” While I didn’t find the book entirely engaging, the book title provided a useful mantra for networking, and over the past year I’ve been more consciously connecting and building and maintaining my network.
The act of networking typically causes negative feelings – fear, avoidance, revulsion. Indeed, the idea of meeting or connecting with people solely to have more people that you can say that you “know” is counter-intuitive to introverts, and can seem superficial and pointless to most people. Purposeful networking is about creating a true community, a lifelong resource where the connections are real, meaningful and mutually beneficial.
A purposeful network is not just a big network. A long list of connections on LinkedIn or Twitter is not a network – it’s a scrapbook. How many of those connections even remember when you met or how they know you? A true connection doesn’t have to be a friend, but it should be someone who remembers more than just your name; they should remember who you are and how you are part of their network. Because if they are part of your network, you are also part of theirs.
Purposeful networking ensures that you stay that way. Here are some ideas to help give your networking purpose and make your connections real:
Give to get – connections have to be based on mutual benefit. Even if the benefit for one person is more immediate and obvious (“please introduce me to your boss”), the other has to believe in the potential for a future benefit. So in your conversation, always be looking for opportunities to add value to them; the opportunities for yourself will naturally follow.
Set goals – typical networking events involve two things that most people (including me) loathe: mingling and small talk. While that feeling of dread as you enter the bustling room full of people at a conference never really goes away, setting some goals about who and how many connections you will meet gives you both something to focus on, and a natural “out” – once you’ve achieved your goals, you’re free to leave if you want to, mission accomplished. I did this at a recent conference, and it made the welcome reception both successful and manageable (in part 2 of this topic, I’ll list my goals and describe how I achieved them).
Quality over quantity – review your lists of contacts on social media, with a view to keeping it purposeful. Reconnect with some people that you’ve perhaps neglected, and delete people from the list that are no longer purposeful – for either you or them; if you can’t remember how you know them, they likely can’t either, so it’s time to go. You might think about applying Dunbar’s Number theory here, and consider this network to be the Acquaintance level (~500 people). I do this myself fairly regularly, on all of my social media platform.
Follow-up – once you’ve met someone who you can purposefully network with, follow-up with them. If you discussed something that they expressed an interest in, email them a link about that. If they mentioned something you’re interested in learning more about, email them to ask for more info. And especially if they invite you to email them, EMAIL THEM. You can also invite them to connect on a professional social media site such as LinkedIn.
Maintain the network – don’t be a stalker, but also don’t let a connection get too cold. You don’t have to email and connect with everyone all the time, but work to keep connections real and active. Especially for key contacts, make an appointment for yourself to reconnect with someone a few months down the road.
All of this networking, this well-digging, has a purpose: making sure you’re prepared for when you get thirsty. The network – and not the connections – is the well. Building and maintaining your network, even when you don’t need it, ensures that it’s there when you do. There’s a certain karmic element to this: you may not always get something from all of your connections, but if you are purposeful and consistent (“mindful” to use last year’s buzzword) you will get as much or more out of your network as you put in. And it is the network – not just the connections – that is the well.
Next post, I’ll go through an example of my networking experience at a recent conference. In a third post, I’ll give some examples of poor networking approaches, and discuss LinkedIn as a tool for networking.
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.