Although many (perhaps even most) business-people think that networking events are a waste of time, a chore, a pain in the neck … they still attend them in the hopes of finding that elusive “unicorn” – the connection that will supercharge their business or career, the Sean Parker who will be able to take their Facebook to the stars. This may be a tad hyperbolic, but the fact that networking events are still so well attended indicates that most business-people are optimists, and perhaps also romantics to boot.
So, should you attend networking events?
Like so many things, this depends. Before you decide, research the event and make a determination as to how important it will be and what kind of impact it could possibly have on your own understanding of your industry.
IF you have a good track record of making valuable connections at networking events like it, IF the event seems to be well attended by movers and shakers in your industry and IF you will most probably get to listen to/meet those movers and shakers, or other influential people, then the answer should be “yes”.
But – and this is a big but – an event must tick all of the boxes to be worthwhile. You need to weigh up not only the time and money cost of attending the event itself but also the peripheral distraction and time wastage related to preparing for and traveling to and from the event.
And, if you know that you will more than likely end up lurking on the periphery of the milling crowd and/or the speaker line-up is not stellar and/or you have doubts about the experience overall, then you would most probably be better off giving it a miss.
Do networking events even work?
Gone are the days when networking events were all-the-rage when you could pack every afternoon and evening with meetups, conventions, conferences, and private networking sessions. The hey-day of networking has passed, for whatever reason, and although most people feel disillusioned by the entire networking “thing”, there is some value to be found in certain networking events.
According to an article by David Burkus in Medium, research shows that networking events are not well suited to meeting new people if they are unstructured. Apparently, people tend to spend most of their time with people they already know, which means that there may be some value in events as ways to reconnect with acquaintances. The author of the article makes a valid point that networking events can be worthwhile if you can extend your network by being introduced to friends of friends. In his rather critical article on attending network events titled “Stop Wasting Your Time On Networking Events”, John Rampton lists a few pertinent reasons as to why most people get nothing out of networking events. These include;
- [They] don’t really understand what networking is. It’s about exchanging of value, like a piece of content or referral, and not just a business card.
- [They]’re focused on selling rather than building a relationship.
- [They] don’t follow-up with new acquaintances.
- [They]’re attending the wrong types of networking events.
- [They] attend networking events with the wrong mindset – [they] may view it as a work-related task or something that [they] really don’t want to do.
Too many of us are guilty of at least one of these failures and if we do not address these oversights, we will continue to waste our time at events.
How do you find events that are not a waste of time?
If you have your heart set on attending networking events, then select only the most worthwhile candidates. To do this, research each event that piques your interest thoroughly and be selective about those that you have shortlisted. Ideal candidates would include
- Events that are close to you and do not require long travel times – unless they are annual, must-attend conventions or the like.
- Events that are inexpensive to attend, although it the event has a dynamite lineup of speakers, it may be worth shelling out for it.
- Events that fall squarely within your industry or your field of interest.
- Events that have structured networking sessions at which you can introduce yourself and your business before mingling.
- Events that stir up some buzz on social media or in the press.
In “5 types of networking events that may be worth your time”, Kelly Ayres suggests that the following events may be worth attending;
- Breakfast meetings – These are valuable for several reasons. First-of-all, you get to have a decent breakfast and second, you get to meet decision-makers before the stress of the day kicks in.
- Industry-Specific Speaking Engagements – Any opportunity to learn from experts in your field is a valuable experience, as long as the speakers are indeed industry-leaders.
- Roundtable Events – The great thing about these types of events is that you can engage with peers in your industry to learn from others and explore new ideas.
- Happy Hour Networking Meetups – These events allow you to meet others in a relaxed, casual environment where they will let their guard down. The downside is that these meetings can become a little too relaxed and informal.
- LinkedIn Groups – Online groups appeal to the introvert in all of us, allowing us to meet with people online who share common interests or are in the same industry as we are. However, reaching out to those you interact with to begin building business relationships can pose a whole raft of additional challenges.
What Do You Do at Networking Events to Make Them NOT Suck?
If you end up attending a networking event, there are things that you can do to make it worth your time. First, develop a “connector’s mindset”. This is a mental attitude that is positive, relaxed and open to meeting new people. I’ll be honest, as an introvert, I really struggle to shift into a connector’s mindset. However, with effort and practice, it will become easier and easier to achieve In this article, Alison Doyle offers some great tips on making the most of attending a networking event. Here are a few ideas;
- Don’t spend too much time with people you know. That doesn’t mean avoiding your acquaintances and existing network members, as you want to refresh and build your existing relationships, but spend some time trying to meet new people.
- Smile and listen. Steer the conversation away from yourself and what you do and ask questions about the person you are talking to. Try to find out what their challenges are to find ways to help them.
- Introduce people who don’t know one another? When you meet someone, be sure to offer to introduce them to people you may know at the event. Both will be thankful as it takes away the need to initiate contact between them.
- Strike up conversations in queues. It’s inevitable that you’ll end up waiting – for an elevator, a drink, food at the buffet line or the bathroom. Commenting on your situation and on waiting, in general, can be an effective non-intrusive ice-breaker.
- Follow up. After the event, be sure to contact those you met to see if you can build on your initial interaction.
Manage your expectations for the networking event
As I said at the outset, it’s my opinion that many people think that networking events are a waste of time because they fail to manage their expectations. They desperately want to meet eager business-people that will be fascinated by what they are doing and offer to buy heaps of products from them.
The reality is, unfortunately, quite different and reconciliating the fantasy and the reality obviously puts a lot of pressure onto the prospective attendee. The solution is to tone down your expectations and be realistic. So, what should you expect from a networking event?
How about setting somewhat modest goals, like coming away having learned something valuable and having met at least one valuable connection who is agreeable to meeting up again after the event. If you come away with more, awesome! If you make two or three great connections, so much the better. But if you meet your goals, then at least you have managed your expectations.
What are the alternatives to attending networking events?
So if networking events are not the business relationship panacea they were once cracked up to be, what are the alternatives? How can we get out to network with people without attending long, pointless events? John Rampton, in his excellent article mentioned above, suggests some of the following alternatives to attending networking events;
- Host your own event – invite current and prospective clients to a private affair at a classy restaurant or bar (this way it will be hard to refuse). Then ask each attendee to bring a friend. That way you, and everyone else at the small gathering will be able to meet new people.
- Double dating – Invite a client to a game or a dinner and ask them to bring a friend. You do the same, and that way both you and your client get to connect with someone new.
- Reconnecting with dormant ties – This involves getting back in touch with ex-colleagues and classmates. They already know you, so half the battle is already won.
- Building relationships online – Many people are opting for building relationships through online apps like LinkedIn. Such platforms make networking with people on the other side of the globe possible.
The takeaway here is to take the initiative and focus on networking on a smaller scale.
What about online networking?
The last point mentioned in the list above alludes to the fact that more and more people are looking to online applications to facilitate networking, and while far from perfect, some existing platforms are edging closer to making it a reality. Even if online networking never replaces the immediacy of face-to-face interaction, it is something that every business-person should be doing in a low-key manner at least, on a constant basis.
Attending networking events can be worth your time if you are selective about which ones you attend and show up with the right attitude. However, bear in mind that there are some useful alternatives that are worth exploring. And of course, there is online networking, which we should all be engaging in.