Events are a logical place to begin your networking efforts. They gather people who have at least one similar interest into one room.
Whether that link is a charitable cause, business association, or mutual friend, it gives you a natural starting point to develop a new relationship.
This is the positive perspective on public events. On the flip side, events can gobble up your precious time and leave you wanting more, especially if you stay in your comfort zone and spend the night talking with your friends and work associates.
So often companies spend big bucks to send senior executives, sales representatives and employees to events, only to have them cluster together and miss the chance to network.
This approach to events is costly, both in dollar terms and in missed opportunities to connect. Why would professionals pay good money to move the daytime water cooler conversation to an after-work networking venue?
Your time is equally valuable whether you’re sitting in a boardroom with a client or mingling at a cocktail function.
However, the social nature of events creates a tendency to treat them as casual outings and a chance to catch up with buddies.
In fact, the best way to approach an event is with the same forethought and respect as any business meeting.
If you and your work colleagues were hosting clients in your boardroom, you wouldn’t spend the time before and after the official meeting talking to each other and ignoring current or prospective clients.
It’s basically the same thing at public events. If you and your colleagues “clique” together, others won’t feel welcome to talk with you. This ultimately defeats the purpose of going to the event.
Networking partners can be great. It’s nice to have a colleague there during a lull in your mingling or when everyone’s arriving, but you have to balance that with the need to meet new people.
To break the clustering habit, agree that once you and your colleague arrive at the function, you will both focus on meeting and connecting with other people, then swap stories after the event.
If you find that two or more people from your office are talking in an exclusive group, encourage each other to split up and meet new people.
Q: What do you do when you have to go to an event where you don’t know anyone?
— SANDY, Kingston
A: Dear Sandy: Your best bet is to arrive early. The natural tendency is to show up when the event is already in full swing in the hope that you will just blend into the crowd. A large crowd is much more intimidating than a handful of people in a room looking for their initial conversation partners. By meeting other early birds, you’re more likely to form mini-bonds and be introduced to their contacts when the crowd starts to fill in.