This industry is full of conferences and speaking events that we all attend. During or after these events there is usually set aside time for networking, this may be cocktail hour or time to visit exhibitor stations. Throughout my career, I have come to understand what networking means to me, and it does not fit the traditional idea of what networking “should” look like.
Last year, right around this time I spent the evening at a presentation of Women in Public Life: An Evening with Madeleine Albright (former US Secretary of State 1997-2001) hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis. I had listened to brief interviews with her before and was fascinated by her political savvy, insight, and confidence. My favorite quote of hers is, “There is a special hell for women who don’t help other women.” Being new to Minneapolis at the time, I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people who may actually become more than an acquaintance due to our shared interests. Sure, this may have been a business networking opportunity, but I really was looking to make connections.
It was a great evening on a couple of different levels. Secretary Albright was all that and more, I could have sat and listened to her for hours. During the cocktail hour, I struck up a conversation with a woman who also waiting for friends to arrive. While we had little in common professionally, she was interesting, humorous, and we enjoyed our conversation with each other. The other women eventually showed up and we ended our conversation. During the presentation, I was seated at a table for dinner with a group of eight women, some alone, some with friends. We all introduced ourselves, said what we did for a living, and had some truly fascinating dinner conversation. Though, looking back, I couldn’t tell you anyone’s name or where they worked or really too much about them.
Did I do something wrong?! I walked away having had a great evening but my networking briefcase had nothing in it. But was it really empty?
I have decided that, for me, anyway, networking success does not depend how many business cards and contacts I can gather at professional events. Although, according to many experts, the more cards you collect, the more you have a chance at making a business connection, it just hasn’t worked out that way for me. What has worked has been constant, consistent, relationship-oriented connections with my peers and associates throughout my industry over time.
The long-term success of these connections is based on a number of things:
- being genuine
- what we can learn and teach each other
- knowing when it’s time to be social and when it’s time for business related discussions, and
- how we can help each other to be successful.
Networking doesn’t have to be grueling. Networking can be as simple as stepping into a group that’s already chatting and contributing. Introducing yourself to the person sitting next to you and following up with some small talk. Offer them your business card and they will, hopefully, offer theirs. Contact them after the conference in an email — if for no other reason than to say you enjoyed talking with them. You get the idea.
As you develop in your career, the potential uneasiness may change to confidence, discretion, and knowing when it is, or is not, the right time to pursue an agenda. Networking is not a game but an art of social conscientiousness. Every event can be like re-living that first day of school, which can be daunting! And, unfortunately, not all professionals are gracious to each other. But when they are, it can definitely be synergistic.
A mentor can be invaluable for those initial introductions. Mentors can guide you to meeting the decision makers and strategists. However, you also have to be ready to strike out on your own. For example don’t sit with your work friends for the dinner at an event. Sit at a table where you don’t know anyone, introduce yourself, participate in any discussion or ask questions, show you are interested. You can empower yourself in these situations.
Don’t be disheartened if you think it didn’t go well. Try again another time, just don’t give up! Learn to be comfortable with yourself and what you know you can offer, whether socially or professionally — no matter where you are in your career.
By Willy Morrison
Carmichael, S. (2015, February 26). Why “Network More” Is Bad Advice for Women.
Clark, D. (2015, March 10). The Right (and Wrong) Way to Network.
Inam, H. (2015, July 14) How Women Can Succeed By Networking Authentically.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily held by American Engineering Testing, Inc., itself.