Networking = Critical Success Factor – Part 2

By Dana Cooper  MBA, CAE
Executive Director, Orthotics Prosthetics Canada
& AMCES Association Management Consultant

10 Tips for Networking Success

Prepare in advance
Take some time before the event to understand what information would be valuable to you.  Objectives can include:

    • Finding others who have addressed issues you are currently facing
    • Event experiences: conference locations, speakers, etc.
    • Bring a question or two that you want to ask others
    • Identify a position or an organization type you want to meet

Have realistic objectives
What you want to leave with ultimately is connections that can be valuable to you at some point in the future.  You should try to connect with several people during the course of the event.  You don’t need the answers to your challenges during the networking…what you want is someone to connect with later to discuss their experiences.

Your challenges are likely not unique!
At your Association events, attendees are in a room full of peers with a great deal in common. While everyone thinks their organizations, members, issues and challenges are unique, it is very likely not the case.  There will be someone out there that can help, they may not be at the event at that time, but there are people in attendance that can help make those connections.

Your challenges may not be unique…but you are!  Make it personal!
Don’t just talk shop, talk about yourself.  There are many things that connect people to each other.  Ask questions of the other that are not work related. Personal connections are the most powerful connections to make and will be much more memorable.  Encourage people to discuss something personal about themselves.  This is an aspect your Association can do to facilitate networking (see Tips to Facilitate Networking Success).

Follow-up after the event
Contrary to days gone by where you had to organize business cards or record your connections to remember, today we have social media that helps us remember our connections and facilitate future communication.  Connect with your acquaintances on a social media platform.  Then when you are looking for resources your social media connections should be the first source and a great memory cue for remembering the people we have connected with.

Have fun!
This is the fun part of the business!  This should not be terrifying!  This is not an “I HAVE to go to this event” this should be an “I GET to go to this event”.   Networking in a room of people with much in common is low risk.  There should be no pressure.  It should be a forum to connect people that may potentially be of value.

Look for ways to help others
There are few better feelings than being able to assist someone with an issue or challenge.  Not only does it provide them with value, but it also confirms that you have value to provide to others.

Be a Communication Facilitator
Be that person that brings the introverts into the conversations.  You can see the anxiety release from them and they become participants rather than bystanders.  It just takes that one effort to make them feel involved.

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression
As many people are at the event, there are that many different personalities.  Match your personality to match those you are discussing.  You don’t want to scare people by being overly aggressive, you want to make connections with people that will want to converse with you again.  If you are bold, it is much easier for you to adjust their personality down in terms of energy and volume than it is for the timid to raise theirs to your level.

Be in the moment
The key to communicating, remembering, and positively connecting is to pay attention and listen to what people are saying.  There are few things worse than having a one on one and the other person is looking around the room or over your shoulder at others. Be conscious of where your attention is…and it should be on the individual or individuals you are currently engaged with. Today we have many potential distractions, including that smart phone on your person.  Let calls go to voice mail.  When there is a break in the conversation sneak away to a corner to check. 

Tips For Association Networking Sessions
Too often I see events that are intended to be networking events, but establish barriers for effective networking.  There are many things Associations can do to facilitate networking.  A few are shared below.

  • Ditch the chairs!  Networking is about circulating and meeting as many people as possible to find those nuggets of value.  It is increasingly difficult to do this in a group of four to six others seated at the same table.  If chairs are necessary, put them around the side of the rooms for people to have more in depth discussions and pay homage to the smart phone gods.
  • Environment is critical.  Choose a location that contributes to low volume conversations and the circulation of people.  Participants will need to manage the food and beverage that will be part of the evening, so include high tables and tools to help them stand and circulate.
  • Names are important.  Help people remember or get to know names, positions and organizations.  Much of what will be discussed will relate to professions. Provide context to those conversations by providing name badges with names, positions and organization name.
  • Facilitate personal connections.  You can facilitate incorporating the personal into the events in a number of ways.  You can include a networking activity to find out information from others or at the beginning of the event, ask questions of the crowd so that people can see others that may have similar interests.  Who likes to ski?  Who plays an instrument?  Who has children under 10?  Who is from another country?  These are door openers to communication and immediately break down barriers and create connections.

Networking is one of the most valuable activities for your members and for your organization in terms of the member value proposition.  That value comes from making the connections that your Association was created to facilitate.

With peer networking, there is very little risk and potentially significant reward.   It should be enjoyable!

By being there the only commitment participants should have is to enjoy themselves and come with the intent of helping others and being helped.

Your Association needs to be strategic about how it structures its networking events to facilitate the creation and realization of value for your members.

Dana Cooper is the Executive Director of Orthotics Prosthetics Canada and an association management consultant with AMCES.  He is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and possesses an MBA degree in marketing.  He has presented at numerous national conferences and authored articles on membership service, the member experience, relationship building and service delivery.  Dana is the instructor of CAE200, the membership module for the CAE program.