What is effective networking? Getting the most from events
07 April 2017
Posted by: Olivia Palmer
Today’s ubiquitous online communications mean networking can start long before delegates meet face to face at events. And when they do meet up the quality of networking should be higher and the experience both memorable and valuable if the right conditions are in place and time is set aside for people to meet, talk and get to know each other.
Louise Clarke talked to several association executives about the benefits of networking and asked them for their top tips and advice. Andy Burman, Chief Executive of the British Dietetic Association, listed the following key points.
- Being in an association can sometimes be isolating, not just in senior roles, but often in specialist roles. How do you know whether your current thinking or strategy is valid if you don’t network with like-minded people?
- Associations can become too sector specific - health, environment, engineering, etc. It is really valuable to broaden your horizons through networking. We learn a lot from each other and ideas or suggestions are transferable across sectors.
- Do your research first. Look on social media, such as LinkedIn, to find out who is talking about what. Hunt them down at events and chat to them if what they say interests you! Everyone is happy to talk about ideas - they would not have put their thoughts out there if they did not.
- Good events leave space and time to network. Great events provide facilitated opportunities for networking. For example, set aside sessions in an event with short biogs of key people who will be there, what they are working on, why it would be good to speak to them, and then just encourage people to join them for an informal chat. A bit like speed networking!
- Some networking is always incidental. For example, if I am speaking or presenting it is great when someone comes up to chat after. You find a common interest or you agree to talk afterwards about a key issue. Keep the conversation going after the event. Networking is a long term commitment and not just for an event.
- Use networks to foster groups too. If you are really effective and know someone with a key problem or challenge, bring your other network contacts into the conversation. You’d be surprised how eager everyone can be to help out in a group (even a virtual one). Anyway, five or six heads are always better than one or two.
Examples of successful networking for me include:
- Someone coming back to me at a later date to chat or to seek input with a problem.
- A network contact recommends a third party to me because they know I may have some ideas to suggest. The latter happens a lot so maybe this is an indication of success?
Enhanced understanding and increase in contacts
According to Sarah Wiggin, Vice President of Sales at GSMA Ltd, the organisation representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide, many meaningful connections happen at GSMA events. Networking means the “ability to meet and interact with peers in other organisations, current clients and prospective clients.” And good networking means “meaningful dialogue that results in an enhanced understanding of a subject, or increased contacts or prospective sales leads.
Sarah adds: “Events should offer the opportunity to bring attendees together informally for drinks, cocktails, dinners and coffee breaks – and bring them together preferably by subject matter so there is a common interest, topic or theme to any networking activity. Events should also offer an online app networking feature that is available pre event – thereby enabling attendees to connect before the event and organise when to meet.”
For Sarah, ensuring she meets everyone she wants to meet involves looking at the
attendee list prior to the event and noting anyone she wants to speak to. “Reach out to them before the event to organise a time,” she says. “Use the networking features on the event app to connect and keep in touch after events by linking to them on LinkedIn.”
William Thomson at Gallus Events says he always encourages organisations to, wherever possible, incorporate networking into their content. “Too often networking only takes place during refreshment breaks and lunch,” says William. “And let’s be honest, most people have other things on their mind during these breaks.
“There are many ways of structuring the content of an event to include networking within the programme. Meeting Design, the structuring of content to make it more memorable and more engaging, can be used to great effect when the organisers want to encourage proper and deeper networking”
There will be plenty of opportunities for networking, including facilitated networking during sessions at the Associations World Congress in Vienna, 2-4 May 2017. As the largest gathering of association professionals in Europe, delegates come from a wide variety of sectors and all types of professional and trade organisations, federations and governing bodies.