Clever Carly: Making Networking Feel Authentic
Who wants fake connections when they can have real ones?
We all know professional networking is important to building up our careers, but let’s be honest: Not all networking events are created equal. And while we’re getting real, let’s face another truth: A lot of networking can seem, well, fake. In fact, studies show that professional networking often makes people feel physically dirty.
So how do we, as planners, confront this?
The answer: We host events with environments ripe for organic networking. That way, attendees will leave feeling like the connections they made lend them a layer of accomplishment, not grime.
Understand Your Audience
The purpose of any networking event is to network, but people connect and are receptive to each other in various ways. Are your guests all part of the same industry, or is the meeting geared toward a specific interest group? Although it might seem obvious, the answers to such questions are crucial to understanding exactly how your guests are likely to connect, which will inform your planning decisions. After all, you can’t facilitate the creation of real, professional relationships without knowing how those people are already connecting—or not connecting. Guests at business-related networking events might be fine connecting in a conference-style setting, but those who are attending an interest group-related meeting might not. For example, if it’s a sports-related networking event, put the game on. That way, it’ll get people talking, and those conversations can bridge into something more meaningful.
Create an Intimate Setting
Authentic networking means developing relationships for more than just a new LinkedIn connection. To do that, people often need the time and space to get to know each other—kind of like dating.
Although some people might be able to forge a connection in larger groups, for many (particularly for introverts), small groups or one-on-one conversations are more apt to build a meaningful relationship. For attendees who are shyer, a more intimate talking group will also give them a better chance to open up and have their voices heard. So organizing a meeting that allows for more intimate conversations, where people can really talk and get to know one another, becomes key.
Consider setting up small tables that fit up to five people, rather than tables of eight or more, to encourage these types of conversations to take place. Or, design food and cocktail bars with candles and other centerpieces to make large spaces seem more exclusive.
Get People Talking
Small talk can be awkward, and for many people, it’s downright painful. But it doesn’t have to be, especially when there are planners like—oh, I don’t know—you and me to create great events that get conversations flowing.
To do this, you can’t just plan any old networking meeting and expect something other than the promotional-type networking that you’re trying to eradicate. Instead, switch it up. This can be done a number of ways, though as for me, I’d consider adding an element to your meeting—think a performance, speaker or some sort of interactive event—that will really wow your guests. It can relate to the meeting purpose or not (whatever you think fits). Either way, it will give attendees common ground and a point of conversation to start from. By giving guests an easy way to get over the small-talk hurdle, you’ll help them start connecting, talking and asking questions—all of the things that form meaningful relationships.
Networking isn’t always fun, but it can change an attendee’s career. Although you might not be able to take credit for that, you can take credit for the event where it happened. And who doesn’t want to add that to their résumé?
Plan well, friends.