By Phil Stella
A Connections reader recently asked how to determine which networking events to attend. He said there are so many to choose from that small-business people can spend too much time and money in the process. Absolutely! Here’s a summary of our conversation on this important topic.
1. The process of choosing which networking event to attend starts with precisely defining your specific networking objectives for the day. Why will you be networking? What kind of information are you seeking? Is it information to help you do your job easier, faster, better or smarter? Or information to help you grow the business? Or information to support your job search? All the other networking event decisions stem from answering the “why” questions first.
2. The “why” determines the “who.” Now that you know what kind of information you’re looking for, what kinds of people do you need to meet to help you accomplish your specific objective? If you already know them, then you move on to Level II strategies – “Networking with Colleagues” – and give them a call or send an email with your specific questions. And you can skip the rest of this article.
3. If you only know who they are by title, function or employer, such as marketing decision-makers or business owners, then you’re at Level I – “Networking with Strangers.”
4. The “who” drives the “where.” Now that you know the kinds of people you’d like to meet, where can you find large numbers of them in the same place at the same time gathered there for similar purposes? What would be effective and efficient platforms for your networking? Obviously, any local networking-oriented event would be a great starting point. So would any CBC Amplify luncheon that is likely to attract the kind of people you want to meet and network with. So are local industry or profession-focused association breakfasts, lunches or dinner meetings.
5. An important concept here is that you don’t necessarily choose a seminar or association event because of your interest in the topic – if you’re primary purpose is networking. You choose it because of who is interested in the topic and how interested you are in meeting them. Go for the networking. Stay for the presentation.
6. Beyond this reflective analytical process, you can also network with your colleagues to find out effective platforms for your networking objectives. Ask specific questions, such as, “I want to network with senior marketing professionals who can tell me about good CRM software options. Would the local SME association or COSE events be worthwhile? Any other good networking platforms you can recommend for this purpose?”
7. If you don’t know much about the group or event, also talk with association leaders or event coordinators. Find out how many people typically attend their events and how many of them might meet your profile. The more people at a given event that you should meet, the better your chances of accomplishing your networking informational objective.
8. Choose your events wisely. You only have so much time and money to invest in the process. Borrowing from Thomas Jefferson, “The real problem about going to a bad networking event is that you could have gone to a good one instead.”
So, there you have some best practices dealing with the ongoing challenge of so many events, so little time. If you want to discuss this topic in more detail, send me a note or give me a call.
Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication Inc., where he empowers business leaders who want to communicate – and network – confidently. He regularly contributes to Cleveland Business Connects magazine and is a COSE MindSpring Networking Expert and popular speaker on the topic. He can be reached at 440.449.0356 or firstname.lastname@example.org and his web address is http://communicate-confidently.com/.
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