I have always approached meeting folks at these events with a long-term perspective. Primarily, to learn more about them and explore whether or not we could contribute to each other’s community. However, they end up being a big waste of time more often than not.
The main reason for this, I believe, is these events have evolved in a similar fashion to nightclubs. As the awesome David Siteman Garland of “The Rise To The Top” would say, everyone attending is looking for a professional one night stand. They may be looking to meet a new client, acquire a job or get some free wine. Regardless, their mindset of “How can I benefit immediately from this?” is not aligned with someone who is looking to develop mutually beneficial professional relationships. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, like nightclubs, these events mostly attract short-sighted people and I don’t think any of us can change this dynamic.
Why is it then that most of the books and articles I have read about networking offer advice centered around how to successfully develop relationships with other top professionals by attending these events?
By comparison, most dating books and experts that focus on how to meet an ideal partner do not suggest that you frequent nightclubs on a regular basis. If you are looking for a committed personal relationship you probably should not go to bars every night, since you are not likely to meet many people who are there for that reason. Everyone gets that! So it should be no surprise that the best dating advice (correctly) ignores the part of the equation that you are not likely to change and encourages you to avoid the clubs altogether. Instead, it is suggested that you leverage your friendships and expose yourself to environments that are more conducive to finding a mate, such as getting personal introductions from friends or hosting dinner parties.
Why should we learn how to navigate these professional meat markets when we can identify more ideal ways to network? The next time you are assessing your networking options, I encourage you to consider skipping the big networking event and get creative. Some things that have worked well for me include hosting roundtable lunches and wine tasting events. Dinner parties are another great option and Michelle Welsch of Project Exponential wrote a great e-book on the topic. And if you identify a larger event that seems ideal, why not offer to bring a few of your clients or strategic partners? At least then you will be spending time with your valuable relationships, regardless of who else is attending.
Do you meet the types of professionals you want to meet at networking events? What effective networking endeavors have you participated in or hosted? I would love to hear your thoughts.
You can read Part II here.