Do you have a “history” with networking?
Maybe you’re like me. My idea of fun often involves reading a book, listening to an audio book during a run or discovering a new wine. Alone time matters! Yet, I know networking matters too – most of my key career opportunities have come through relationships.
So how do you reconcile this tension? It’s different from everyone. There are the “Avoiders”: people – including me at various points – simply avoid the whole activity because of disinterest or discomfort. There are the “Naturals”: folks like Bill Clinton, Keith Ferrazzi and others who connect with ease over and over again. Finally, there’s the third group – the “Curious” who know that networking is part of the story but they don’t quite know how to get started.
How did I make the transition from avoider to curious? I gradually refined my approach through trial and error. If you’re not a natural at networking, don’t worry. This article will have practical networking tips for you.
Experiments In Networking During Grad School: Finding My Groove
In 2007-2009, I earned a graduate degree in information studies. What does that mean? I wrote a Master’s thesis on Net Neutrality Policy in Canada and the United States, learned about book history and print culture and learned about archives. I was looking at (and interviewed for) jobs as a university librarian and an archivist. During those years, I started to develop my networking skills by experimenting with different methods.
What I Learned About Myself & Networking
- Struggles With Unstructured events. I find these events somewhat difficult. I found that I tend to perform better when there are explicit points of common ground (e.g. dinner occurs after a keynote address).
- Started A Podcast. As a graduate student, I started a short lived podcast called “The iSchool Podcast.” I recorded lectures given by guest speakers like Michael Geist and presented them as a podcast. I’m a huge fan of podcasts (see: 16 Podcasts To Grow Your Career In 2016) and it was fun to produce this series. It also helped me to connect with a variety of experts.
- Prior Research Improves Results. Taking 15 minutes to read he conference program ahead of time makes a difference. Taking the time to read presenter bios, connecting on Twitter or sending emails made it easier to build my network.
- Set Goals. In sales, it is common to set prospecting goals such as number of cold calls made per day. At events, I started to make goals. I would tell myself, “Ok, introduce yourself to 3 people you don’t know. Once that’s done, it’s mission accomplished for this event.” Sometimes I would go beyond that point. In other cases, I would call it a day and head home.
Leveraging Small Groups: My Approach To The World Domination Summit 2015
Fast forward to 2015. I was excited to attend this unconventional conference in Portland, Oregon. Founded by author Chris Guilebeau, WDS draws thousands of attendees each year interested in creating businesses, new careers and unconventional projects. Having read all of his books (especially “The $100 Startup”), I was excited to attend. Given the costs of travel and participation, I knew it was important to plan ahead to get the most out of the event.
Resource: I wrote a detailed report about the conference here – Field Report from the World Domination Summit: Online Business, Relationships & Great Workshops.
What I Learned About Networking:
- Play The Host!. I organized a dinner for a dozen people interested in online courses. This was a great success. Kudos to the WDS team for encouraging and promoting these meet ups. The conference organizers had a great online tool that listed conference meetups (e.g. coffee meetings, yoga events and more) and made it easy to start and promote these events..
- Attend Small Workshops. I attended several smaller workshops that I found helpful. Sean Ogle’s event on “location independent business” was a key experience.
- Try Something Completely Different. The WDS conference had an optional “5KM fun run” for attendees. I had never been to Portland before so I thought this would be a fun way to see the city. As an unexpected side benefit, I met Jim Hopkinson, author of Salary Tutor: Learn the Salary Negotiation Secrets No One Ever Taught You. He later introduced me to an editor at Success.com and now I’ve published my first article with them: The Best Career Advice, From Successful People Who Made It to the Top.
- Say Hi When In Line. When I was in line to attend a WDS event, I had the good fortune of meeting Jason W. Womack, author of “Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.” Jason gave me a copy of his book and it was a great read. I have followed his work and learned a lot from him. Jason – if you’re reading this, please say hi in the comments section.
- Ask Questions At Events. I attended Sean Ogle‘s event on building a business WDS and asked a question about building a business. There were several benefits from pushing myself to ask a question. First, I engaged more deeply with Sean and learned more from him. Second, other people came up to me after the event and introduced themselves to me. They started by saying comments along the lines of “I liked your question!” – what a neat icebreaker.
- A Missed Opportunity To Meet David Fugate (or Push Myself To Say Hi!). I wanted to meet David Fugate, literary agent to Chris Guillebeau, Andy Weir (author of “The Martian”) and others. Due to schedule conflicts, I could not attend his events. However, I actually saw him on the street nearby a conference venue and could have reached out to introduce myself. I felt shy and missed the opportunity. I’m still kicking myself over that oversight.
Invited Expert: My Experience At PMI Global Congress 2015
This event represents the height of my networking success. In July 2015, I received an email from PMI inviting me to attend the event as a ProjectManagement.com expert. Why was I invited? It was partly luck and partly hustle. On the luck side, the organization decided to promote ProjectManagement.com where I was an active contributor. On the hustle side, I had been active on the website for months publishing articles and delivering webinars. I was determined to make the most of the event because it meant missing a friend’s wedding AND Canadian Thanksgiving.
What I Learned About Networking.
- Arrange Meetings Before The Conference. I looked up several presenters and exhibitors attending the conference and arrange to meet with them. It was good to meet a few people 1-on-1 and have that planned in advance. Thanks to Conference Crushing by Tyler Wagner for insight on how to prepare for conferences.
- Go ‘Off Campus’ To Explore And Bond. The PMI organizers arranged a great night out at Epcot (part of Disney World) which I enjoyed exploring with my fellow ProjectManagement.com experts. The fireworks, food and company were all quite enjoyable. Serious business and learning are priorities at conferences but that’s not the whole picture.
- Meet Cornelius Fichtner. I have listened to Cornelius’s excellent Project Management Podcast (and used his excellent training product The PM PrepCast) for some time. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet Cornelius at the conference. We have stayed in touch since the conference.
- Write About My Experiences. In case it wasn’t clear already, I like to write reports on events I attend. I wrote PMI Congress 2015: Lessons Learned for ProjectManagement.com to share a few insights from the event.
Question For You:
What was your most successful networking experience? In the comments section below, please share an example from your experience.