Chicago has plenty of professional networking opportunities - several of which were featured in last week's post. Today, I am going to provide some tips for making the best of your networking efforts. It is easy for non-profit/social good advocates to assume little need to refine their skills; however, this should be helpful in providing guidance and reassurance for networkers in any field....and in any situation.
With that, let's get started!
- Know thy event before attending - Before any event, it is a good idea to have a "dossier" with event hours, location and directions (you can find transit information via Transit Chicago, appropriate ticketing via Eventbrite or other online venue, and possibly a sticky note with desired contacts. Being prepared for an event can allow for a minimum of hassle, but enable you to fully enjoy and receive the greatest benefit from an event.
- Business cards: the best accessory for the wisely dressed networker: Having researched the event, you will know what attire is appropriate for the event. (When in doubt, move towards the "business" end of business casual.) Also, never forget business cards - something as simple as name, job title, e-mail, and phone can serve as a way to begin developing professional relationships. After all, how can someone get back to you if they don't know how to contact you? Business cards are your most effective networking tool.
- Choose your events strategically - Many networking events in Chicago often promote themselves as having a large number of attendees - so much so that they blur the line between "networking opportunity" and "cocktail party. Determining your target networking goals has an effect on where you place your efforts - if you're a job seeker, you may choose to focus on smaller scale events where you are more likely to network with people who make hiring decisions. A good rule of thumb: if you feel spammed by a networking event, it may not be worth your focus.
- Stay friendly, helpful, and sober - Professional networking events should be enjoyable, and having a positive, enthusiastic attitude can be beneficial. Even the shyest attendees can gradually move out of their comfort zone - establish eye contact early and often. Say "hello", especially to the shy people sitting in a corner. Make introductions when you can. And although many professional networking events are held in restaurants and bars, staying sober throughout the event (whether you limit your alcohol intake or stick to nonalcoholic beverages) will be immensely helpful in staying focused, positive, and productive when meeting other networkers.
- Suggestions may be welcome, but "shoulds" never are - Event organizers put a lot of work into creating and running events, and most of the time, are open to suggestions. However, we all know those few people who insist on what the organizer "should" be doing. (For example, an attendee for a movie-related meetup suggested that the organizer 'should' show the movie in Blu-Ray). Although many organizers appreciate suggestions, respecting an organizer's choices can make networking more enjoyable and productive. Of course, always keep in mind - not every event is for everyone - if you find an event unappealling, you can simply not attend and find another event. (If you belong to any groups hosted by Meetup.com, be aware that the organizer (or organizing team) works hard - and pays for the privilege - of using the platform, so things that may be easy for you may not be easy for them.
- Don't forget to follow up - Within a day after attending, be sure to send a nice, polite thank-you e-mail. Make your connections via Linked In (being sure to personalize your outreach message). And feel confident that you've taken a smart, strategic approach to networking.
For many social change agents, social networking is much preferable - and easier - than in-person networking. But thankfully, these tips can help us build collaboration and community...and prove that sometimes low-tech methods work more efficiently in specific situations....but what do you think? Please leave your comments and questions below, or reach out to me privately via Linked In or e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!
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