Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Networking 101 (for those who hate networking)

This is a great guest post from my new friend, Kevin A. Barry atthe University of Pennsylvania we met at a conference this week and he has a great perspective on networking!

Most conventions are actually more about networking and less about programming: For many industries, you can figure out trends through trade publications. While intimidating to some, networking is easier than you might think. Here is some advice on how to navigate a convention without coming off as smarmy.

Business is all about relationships

No matter your industry, business is all about relationships. Networking isn’t about the number of people you meet or how many business cards you collect, but on making real connections. Look people in the eye and focus on being genuine and authentic. Try to build trust and relationships by finding ways you can help others.

Volunteer your time

Every organization needs volunteers, especially during an annual meeting or convention. Review the marketing materials for any event and visit the organization’s website to find the main contact and e-mail them a few months in advance. Thank them for putting the conference together and explain that you are interested in helping make this the best year ever! Offer your time, expertise, creativity or connections to help improve the event. If you are uneasy about meeting new people, this is a great way to stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you.

Be strategic

This is a tough thing to learn, yet it is crucial to successful networking. Conventions and professional-development workshops are a great way to gain access to thought leaders and power players in your industry. Convention programs often provide a list of names and contact information for guests and most professional organizations distribute a membership directory once a year. Review the directories and organization’s programming calendar to decide whom you’d like to meet and why. If they are speaking or presenting at an event, attend it and arrive early. Prepare open-ended questions for the Q&A. Frame your questions so that the speaker’s answer tells you “who, what, where, when and how” rather than a simple yes or no response. Approach the speaker(s) after the program to thank him or her and convey what you liked or found interesting about the session. This is also a great chance to ask for more information about a topic over coffee or lunch.

Don’t be that guy or gal

At every convention there are those people who annoy because they network ineffectively. We have all encountered them — the wallflower, the celebrity hound, the card monger and the Saran Wrap. Wallflowers sit in a far corner of the room because they are too afraid to mix and mingle. They typically have a weak handshake, come across as insecure and often end up being ignored. Celebrity hounds stalk the most important person at the convention for a handshake or Facebook photo. Saying that you met someone is frivolous at best; instead focus on having something useful to say. Card mongers pass out business cards like they’re the cure for cancer. They gloat over the quantity of people they meet, not the quality of the relationships. Like the Plastics from “Mean Girls,” Saran Wraps cling to you as soon as you meet and assume that you are automatically BFFs (best friends forever). They don’t leave your side for the entire conference. You can avoid being “that guy or gal” by actively listening to what people have to say, looking people in the eye when you speak with them and only giving out your card to those people with whom you plan to follow up. Follow Hillary Clinton’s lead. If you only have 30 seconds with someone, make it 30 seconds of warmth and sincerity.

Become a resource for others

Come prepared. Review business publications and industry trades. Be able to offer your opinions on industry trends and ask others their thoughts on the topic at scheduled networking events. If you know the area well, offer your recommendations on restaurants and other local points of interest. This does not end with the convention. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.

Follow up, follow up, follow up

This cannot be stressed enough. The most essential part of continuing a relationship is following up with the people you meet quickly and efficiently. There are many different ways of doing this. Some people prefer handwritten notes, some prefer e-mails, others call. Find what works best for you and follow up within a week. It will help build these new relationships and demonstrate that you are responsible.

Lastly, see and be seen. It will get you further than you think.


  1. Thank you Anne - I needed this one. My favorite quote in this blog is "If you only have 30 seconds with someone, make it 30 seconds of warmth and sincerity." - great advice.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Great article and timely with the many conferences happening right now. I would only add, "connecting on LinkedIn" to the final paragraph on following up. Connecting immediately with your new contacts shows your interest in networking and adding value to their connecting with you. Share your social and professional networking with them and offer to make introductions or send them a timely article. Don't just connect for the sake of adding one more name to your list of connections.

    1. Yes, connecting on Linked in is a great idea!!

  4. Admittedly, networking is a necessary and effective tool and in my case, severely under utilized. I think I collect as many cards as I give out and have experienced mostly only sales people follow up with me. What sort of content do u recommend for follow up? Does"nice meeting you" to everyone suffice or follow up only with those with whom I had a meaningful discussion or connection make more sense?

    1. Laura, I am usually great at follow-up but sometimes I am so jetlagged that I forget to do it within 24-48 hours, which is the time I would recommend. The email could be as simple as this:

      Subject: Nice to meet you.

      Hi Laura,

      It was nice to meet you at [where] [through person or in city] the other night! I really enjoyed our chat and look forward to connecting again soon.

      Let me know if you are ever in [the city you live in]. I would love to show you around.

      While this is what works for me, it is important to find your own voice. What works for me may not be what works for you.

      Another option is to think about how you would respond to a donor and edit it a bit to fit the situation. It is not much different than that.

      Now, I want to pose a question to you, Lynne and the others. When following up, how long is too long too long to wait? 1 week? 3 weeks? a month? two months? At what point, do you just say it is too late?