On the Episode 101 of Inside the Marketplace, Priest speaks with David Burkus and they talk about the importance of networking, how to get the most out of it and really how to make it work beyond the scope of your job. It’s an interesting interview because once you get to a certain level in your career, you may find yourself at tons of these events. Networking locally with professionals is a cottage industry at this point. Sometimes it’s just to get to know people around you and of course there are the ones where they are singles mixers and well… we’ll just leave that whole concept alone.
Beyond that you’re flying to conferences both as an attendee or guest and sometimes your company is hosting them. Sometimes these are seminars where there’s a learning element to the event. Whatever you attend you often find yourself attending one time block, getting a little break and maybe some mingle time, another block and then possibly a much larger time to share information and of course there’s food and sometimes drinks and music later on. I’ve always felt a bit stiff at these. I attend looking at it from my company’s point of view. They put up a couple of grand for travel, tickets and hotel and I want to make sure I am representing them in the best way. That’s not always the case as I have seen many a professional take the free drinks thing way too far and then that next morning when we’re right back at it, they’re the topics of whisper, murmurs and rumors. Yikes.
Another really common thread is how many business cards get passed around. I’ll approach a group from a single company, end up with all of their cards not quite sure exactly who the peer of mine is on their team. But hey I got the whole team set! It’s like getting a bunch of wax packs of baseball cards and pulling the entire Red Sox set. Sweet… I guess, but maybe I only wanted Mookie Betts?
I like meeting people but I have always found that I get the most out of these events when I am digging for information. EVERYBODY wants to share their stories, their secrets, how they do things. It makes all of us feel important and in many cases while we’re all working on similar things, we’re not always in direct competition with one another so a little shared information doesn’t hurt anybody.
What did they do that worked? What did not? Were there incentives involved and what kind? What was the original goal and how did that change throughout the process of what they set up?
Likewise, be ready to share similar information. When you go to these events, you’re the subject matter expert for your company, show that off! I’ve gone to conferences and spent two days cornered by different teams that wanted my secrets on user engagement. Each company has a different corporate structure, a different company culture so even if I share things exactly to someone in the same product space as us, there’s no guarantee it will work exactly the same. The value isn’t getting a direct blueprint from those other companies, it’s getting a pile of blueprints to try things out in future endeavors.
I spend time getting to know the teams and their histories and set up future calls where we can collaborate further. It probably sounds like I am a killjoy but a large percentage of people attending have similar interests and there’s no saying you can’t do a lot of this info swapping with a lot of laughing, jokes and a Rum and Coke nearby. Just be smart about how much you’re drinking so it doesn’t make it hard to retain information.
The calls afterward always are work related but I tend to build out that relationship further. That expertise will make it easier for you should your company change directions and not need your services in the future so it’s always good to let people know who you are and what you’re good at for that potential moment when you need to reach out about employment as well.
I think networking events can be hugely valuable but it really requires a strong gameplan to go into it with a goal of siphoning information out of the people you connect with. The more you learn from them and the more they learn from you, the more real that connection is. In a world of superficial friend requests and fake networking adds from users you don’t know, those real connections matter more than ever.