Get More From Networking Events Beyond the Wine and Cheese
Chances are a few times in a year, you will have an invite to a birthday or send off party, a retirement dinner, an after-graduation ceremony or a corporate executive meet and greet ritual. Before you delve deeper into this essay, I would like to point out that in today’s world if you know how the ‘system’ works, you should know that it’s not about the food.
‘It’s all about whom you know’ has become a cliche and to some of you, it’s a negative one. Unfortunately, it is the reality, like or not.
We’re so interconnected and interdependent that in order to take full advantage of all that’s available to you, you need to artfully and purposely network using every opportunity that’s offered to you.
When you’re invited to a party or any occasion, it’s easy to think that the greatest opportunity presented to you is the buffet, the free wine and the take home boxes. No, these are not. Today, the person who is alert and well coached on how the things work doesn’t focus on the tangibles. He scouts for every opportunity to contribute to the occasion and by doing that to advance his own cause and interest. Nobody invites you to a ceremony to just come and eat; you’re invited to come and make a function better than it would be without you. If you can find ways to accomplish that, all other things shall follow.
At this point you may ask yourself what has been the professional benefits of the many networking gathering you’ve attended over the years. Like many people, you assessment may be disappointing. The reason you’ve not gotten much from those events was you didn’t consider those parties, dinners and meet-to-greet occasions as rare opportunities but rather mere everyday routines. Your networking success starts by changing the value you put on any of this interactions. It could be your neighbor’s son’s birthday party. What’s a big deal about that? Actually, none, if you’re one of the many people who do it every weekend. But to folks who have their goals in sight, are watchful, and looking for ways, any ways to advance those goals, that kid’s birthday party is a big deal. There may be one or two people you meet there you would never meet and you could present yourself in a positive light to such individuals in a way that could a remarkable effect on you and others.
Making the Most of Everyday Chances
As mentioned earlier, you’re invited to occasions because of the impact you’re expected to make and not because there was the need for additional invitees. Realizing this will affect the type of mindset with which you approach the invite and prepare to attend. Going to a ceremony with the attitude to make it better, to contribute, to make an impact is the foundation for all networking. Whether one prepares before he leaves for the program, what times he gets there, and what time he exits depends on whether he goes with the outlook to contribute.
Before Networking Events
To make the most of any opportunity that’s offered to you, though I know many of us count these invites as routines and not opportunities, you need to prepare for every ceremony. These preparations can include ordinary stuff such as finding out who else is coming. Why is that important? It’s important because by finding out who else is coming, you can decide ahead of time who among them you’ll like to meet personally so you can try to weave your way into them right from the beginning before they are out of the place. Imagine how painful it’d be to know that the supervisor at the Graphic Arts studio you submitted your resume a few weeks ago was at the meeting but you didn’t know until he had left or days after the event?
Heard of Google? I bet you do. Knowing who else are coming to the event, ask Google for help. Some folks are good at social events and can start conversations from any angle. Some of us need a little help. If there’re people you need to talk to, you can learn about their past and current business focus on the internet, their wiki pages and many other sources. Make use of these avenues. Do some research on the companies these folks work for and the products they market and prepare questions around these to ask them. The key point is that successful networking requires conscious preparation. You aren’t going to be to take full the benefit of the persons you meet, the groups you contact, and the special situations you encounter without some preparation.
Oprah Winfrey commented “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity”. Depending your interests and circumstances, opportunities will be plentiful at networking events, but whether you can take advantage of them or not depends on the effort you put in preparation.
At Networking Events
After all your preparation prior to the ritual, grab any fleeting moment to contribute to the function; that’s why you were invited. By doing so, you’ll be noticed, and that’s what seals the deal. And back to the point that I make earlier, the wine and cheese should be stepping stones to whatever you want to achieve over there, and not the purpose for the gathering for you. Be alert. Read the name badges and great people by their names. If you had prepared somehow for the ceremony and knew who were coming, you might have rehearsed how to say difficult to pronounce names before the meeting.
Cultures vary on the fine details that come into interpersonal interactions but you shouldn’t let the fear of making a blunder hold you back. Watch what others are doing and follow suit. When you meet someone, extend your hand and offer a firm handshake with a smile. Gender rules here are faint. Either the man or women can initiate the interaction.
Make people know that you’re there by whatever it takes. Shake a lot of hands and do it with enthusiasm. Lean forward with a smile. You’ll realize that the people who want to make the most of out the gathering don’t play with this. As they do this they exchange business cards. A key point on the exchange of business cards: When someone hands over their business card to you, don’t just put it in your purse. Look at the name and the title. You could miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a good impression on somebody you may never have the chance to meet again.
Alcohol may be plenty but limit your intake of alcohol at the beginning of networking ceremonies. It’s not for religious reasons, of course. Remember that you’re there to contribute and seek openings to advance your own cause. And you can’t fulfill that goal if you aren’t sober. Again, the danger of being loose-lipped after too much alcohol is real and you could pay a heavy price for the rest of your professional career. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be watchful.
After the Event
After the event, follow up on key people you met. Remember that there may be people you may not initially consider to be of immediate benefit to follow up with and you may be tempted to follow up only with those you consider ‘strategic’. This is both poor decorum and selfishness. If you spent time with people and told them you enjoyed the time with them, got their cards and promised to catch up with them, then do even if you don’t need anything from then at the moment. They may need something from you and you may need them tomorrow. That’s the essence of networking. You deliberately make a mutually beneficial connection with someone, for diverse reasons some of which could be many years along the road.
There’re many books that teach the diverse shade of networking as a pro. Look for some of the books and read them. I’m not a pro on this. My intent here was merely to make you aware that you can and need to get more from everyday occasions beside the wine and cheese.