Face it: Networking Sucks.
Everyone hates networking. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and it takes a special combination of skills, personality and confidence to do it successfully.
So why do we as event organizers keep making them do it? We not only include networking time in almost every large event, we go so far as to trumpet it as a selling point:
“Come for the networking opportunities!”
As if anyone’s eager to mill about in a room full of mostly strangers, feeling left out, struggling to approach someone, struggling to get past superficial pleasantries when they do.
The reason is that everyone wants what networking is supposed to deliver: useful contacts, interesting and meaningful conversations, and social engagement with other humans. People love those things. (check out Simon Salt’s great piece on events and community building)
But since most people dislike networking, and aren’t very good at it, we don’t end up with as many of those great outcomes as we could. There is a better way.
Top 3 Ways Networking Sucks
In my view, the 3 most difficult things about networking are:
- Making the first move: approaching a person or group
- Finding things to talk about
- Getting out of a conversation that isn’t working
A Better Way to Get People Engaging
As organizers, we can break down all these barriers through the use of simple programming.
One or more short, easy exercises early in an event can clear the way for a greater level of engagement throughout. Here’s how:
- Start with a structured activity where the participants are instructed to introduce themselves by answering a short list of very specific questions (eg. name, workplace, reason for coming) within a set time frame. This gives them a low-stakes way to approach one another and make initial contact. No more having to break the ice alone.
- Include a question or topic for discussion, either within the introductory exercise or as a separate one, taking the burden of what to talk about off the participants and getting conversations started. No more having to think about what to say.
- Build the activities around small groups and have several rounds of each to expose each participant to a number of others, giving them a larger number of initial contacts and painlessly extracting them from contact with people who aren’t a fit for them. No more ending up only talking to a small group the whole time, or getting stuck in a conversational vortex with anyone.
This structured content can take as little as 10 minutes at the beginning of a gathering and can set the stage for a better quality of engagement and dialogue throughout any event. Participants go away from such programming having begun conversations with a number of their peers in the room; conversations they can go back to and pursue at their leisure without the pressure of making the first move or thinking of something to say.
So why are we still making people network, when we could be doing it for them? Why do we put people through this painful experience when, with 10-20 minutes worth of simple exercises, we could pave the way for them and elevate the quality of our events?
The Edmonton “We Hate Networking” Group
I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is on this one and create a new monthly meetup event: The Edmonton “We Hate Networking” Group.
This is networking for people who hate networking. Once a month we will get together at a local watering hole and kick things off with an activity to get to know each other and get conversation started. I’ll bring a different activity every month and get feedback afterwards about how well it worked.
We’ll meet, chat, make new connections, and deepen the ones we already have. We will build our networks but we will not ‘network’.
You’re invited. Let’s build some connections.