Although many find networking to be nerve-wracking, I find it nourishing. It energizes me, provides a source for innovative ideas, and gives me sense of belonging, connecting me with people from all over the world and reconnecting me with dear industry friends!
The year has just started, but I have already attended several national and local networking events. It started in January at PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Austin, and from there I presented sessions at MPI chapter meetings in Memphis and Edmonton, and at the Global Pharmaceutical and Medical Meetings Summit in Philadelphia. One of my favorite things about attending industry events is connecting like-minded people that I admire and respect, and seeing them begin to establish a new rewarding relationship. It reminds of the pebble in a pond metaphor. The ripples from the pebble keep radiating outward, just as our networks are constantly expanding.
I am thoughtful about expanding my network; diversity is important to me. I am lucky to have a broad geographic network, with friends and associates not only from North America and Europe, but also China, Africa, Australia, Latin America, and South America. This keeps me from becoming too U.S.-centric in my thinking about our industry and allows me to be a global advocate for strategic meetings management.
Additionally, I work to have diversity within the professions in my network: meeting planners, travel managers, hoteliers, destination management company professionals, professional congress organizers, company executives, independent business owners, procurement directors, technology companies, and more!
Walk the Networking Talk
If you are new at networking, don't worry, it's not that hard! As you prepare for an upcoming meeting, develop some conversation starters you can have top of mind. For example:
• If you are in line for food, comment on a session you were just in to the person next to you; ask what session they were in.
• Ask how that got started in the industry…that’s a fun one!
• What do they like most—or least!— about their job?
My mom used to say, “listen with your ears, not with your mouth,” meaning, do more listening than talking. That’s one of the great life lessons I learned from her.
Also, be sure you can succinctly and proudly describe your job, your company, and your industry. When someone asks you about your job, be able to respond effortlessly. Then be sure to return the question—keep the conversation going!
A few other networking tips:
• During a meal, introduce yourself to everyone at the table, not just to the two people on either side of you.
• Suggest that everyone at the meal table or meeting table exchange cards. It will be like a little speed-networking session.
• A great way to expand your network is to take on volunteer leadership roles in your local chapter or on a national committee of your industry association.
Hopefully my thoughts and ideas will make you embrace your next networking opportunity and allow it to nourish your career. Good luck!