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Wake up and smell the networking coffee

Here’s the rap against Midwest technology networking events: you pay to get in, you pay to park your car and then you spend the evening talking to all the service providers in town.

In other words, corporate folks don’t go to these things very often. Why don’t they go? Because they’re tired of fending off all the service providers who meet them at networking events, pitch their services and bombard them for weeks afterward with follow-up calls and e-mail messages.

Makes sense.

Even if it sounds counterintuitive, it’s simply essential for corporate insiders to get out to these events from time to time (at least once a quarter). I say this for your own good. It’s a very bad thing to get too isolated in your corporate hidey-hole.

I don’t mean that you need to network because you could lose your job to a sudden reorganization at any moment. Even if you’re the CEO’s son-in-law and you’re secure as all get out, there’s another reason to make the rounds and at least occasionally show up at a networking gathering: your professional connectedness.
When I was a corporate HR person from the tail end of the 1970s through the end of the 1990s, I didn’t understand networking. I didn’t do it.

I started an HR council for the American Electronics Association (is the AEA still around?) and I knew a few dozen technology HR people. That was it. Apart from the AEA and later the Chicago Software Association, I shied away from networking events.

I thought I knew enough of the right people (my vendors, a few customers and, of course, my employees) so I didn’t need to meet any new ones. I had a full Rolodex. I was content.

Ha! If I met 20 people a year for 10 years and if each one of those people introduced me to two new people the following year, by now I would have met, well, a lot more people.

Though I can’t do the math, I know it’s a huge number. I didn’t meet those people. I was busy being content in my corporate headquarters. What a waste!

Your business value can only increase as you know more people who know things you don’t know. I’m talking about contacts, advisors and friends. I’m not just talking about people who can connect you with other people.

Your network has an enormous value apart from its ability to help you make deals. It’s a wonderful thing to be in a staff meeting while people are puzzling over an issue. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say: “I’ll ping my buddy, Ahmed, over at Accenture. They do a lot of work in that arena. He’ll know the answer.”

Your business knowledge won’t grow nearly as fast through your internal interactions as it will through varied and stimulating conversations with people in functions and industries different from your own.

When you choose to go to work in the morning, come home at night and meet no one new during the course of a month or a quarter, you’re hurting yourself. Sure, networking events can expose you to vendor attacks. Big deal. It’s worth it to withstand those in order to meet new and interesting people (including vendors who can be incredible advisors).

Many of us think networking is only useful when you’re in a job search or if you’re an independent consultant or small businessperson. Au contraire! Everyone should network. Corporate people often don’t see this. It’s time they wake up and smell the networking coffee: failure to connect is a crime against yourself.

Here’s how it works: you can shake off the anti-networking bias any time. You can make up for lost time and get out there on the circuit. You don’t have to morph into a networking fiend like some of the types who never miss a meeting. Just put a toe in the water.

Our Midwestern cities are chock full of events that will satisfy your desire to start networking any month of the year. January is a great time to get out there and turn over a new leaf.

If you do start to come out of your corporate shell, how do you avoid being hit on by every vendor in the city? Just say: “While I’m glad to meet you, I’m not the person who purchases those services.” If they ask for an introduction inside your company, tell them you’ll pass their information along. That’s really all a brand-new acquaintance can ask of you.

You should get connected online, too.

Try LinkedIn, a popular online networking site. Sign up (it’s free) and then link to me at That will get your started. Also, I have to recommend a site I helped to build: WorldWIT, which is a network of free, moderated e-mail discussion communities focused on women in business and technology (men are welcome, too).

Between those two resources, you’ll have a leg up on the online networking thing. You’ll thank me later.

Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Ed Longanecker responded 10 years ago: #1

AeA IS still here. We've recently re-opened our Midwest office based in Oakbrook Terrace, IL. The Midwest, specfically IL, has been an area of growth for AeA over the past 12 months, and I have relocated from our Dallas office to work more closely with our growing based of member companies.
Best regards,
Ed Longanecker, Executive Director
AeA Midwest Council
630-613-7174 /

Liz Ryan responded 10 years ago: #2

Thanks Ed! I am a little out of the loop being based out of the midwest the last couple of years. Thanks for the update. I would love to hear more about what AEA is up to. Cheers - Liz Ryan

Scott Allen responded 10 years ago: #3

A friend of mine recently pointed out that when someone gives you a vendor pitch, it's an opportunity. You're learning more about THEIR business. If they're a prospective customer, that's useful information. For corporate types it could be market research.

You're so right about the importance of getting people from larger companies out to networking events or networking online. If they can't understand the positive value of it, maybe the negative appeal will work, which is that this kind of networking is much of what enables smaller companies to be more nimble and mobilize quickly to meet opportunity when it arises.

On second thought, maybe we SHOULD keep this a secret from big companies. ;-)

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