23 Apr Off-the-grid networking can help you cut past chit-chat
How the notion of networking has changed over the years is a funny thing.
When Midwest tech people talked about networking a decade ago, they were mostly talking about reaching out to their friends and colleagues for job opportunities and business development leads. In other words, to most Midwest tech networkers, “networking” meant “using your existing network”.
Today, the word has taken on a new meaning. People still talk about networking with people they already know, but very often, they use the word “networking” to mean “meeting new people”. Networking has become a job description in and of itself to meet more folks.
Collecting business cards is a lifestyle. Some Midwest techies are addicted to it. But this type of networking – meeting new people – has its limitations.
Chief among them is the problem of following up with all these new people you meet. Apart from that, there’s another issue with networking among new acquaintances: though you’d love to collaborate and brainstorm and ask favors of these new associates, you don’t really know them very well.
In fact, you don’t know them at all. When you leave the event where you met this fascinating new person, you have a very thin thread of a relationship. Yes, it would be great to build that out, but who has time?
This is why it’s important to find ways to engage more deeply with new business associates whenever you can. Here are two ways that I’ve found and can recommend to spend more quality networking time than most mid-week evening mixers allow:
• Alumni groups often schedule weekend-long excursions for groups of alums from one city or a region. Talk to fellow alums who have participated to make sure the activities (and the age level as some of these groups can cater to brand-new grads) are your cup of tea.
A weekend of networking with former schoolmates and alums from other years (and decades) is a whole lot more valuable than a quick chat at a downtown networking event. You’ll also meet people from a wide cross section of industries and functions (unless you went to, for instance, a culinary institute).
• An upcoming local conference called Camp WorldWIT (yes, we know I’m the founder of WorldWIT) caters to Midwest tech and business women with a weekend-long agenda of corporate, entrepreneurial and professional-services speakers and panels interspersed with yoga, tai chi, belly dancing and great networking.
Camp WorldWIT is taking place next month from May 19 to 22 at the Conference Point in Williams Bay, Wis. It is being put on by ChicWIT and Milw-WIT (two groups for which I’m part of the leadership team) and will be a fun opportunity to learn, collaborate and network in depth with other brilliant Midwestern professional women.
What’s the advantage to more concentrated networking time with one group of people? It’s mostly in the extra time you get to understand mutual goals and capabilities, develop a conversation and come to solutions rather than the usual “we should do some work together sometime” conclusion.
When you have spent a night or weekend with someone, you’ll feel comfortable calling them a month down the road to say “here’s something we should talk about”. That’s not so easy after a casual 10-minute chat over hors d’oeuvres at the Ritz-Carlton.
You never want to call an acquaintance and have to explain “I’m the one with the red hair who was wearing a glen plaid jacket.”
Apart from getting people to remember you, you have to pick through your recollection of a short conversation after a networking event in order to follow up. You may have understood one thing and your new colleague may have understood another.
There was music and the clinking of glasses as you spoke so one or both of you may have been misunderstood. When you have a longer time to dig into issues in conversation, you can get past that surface chit-chat and figure out whether you and your new contact have some mutual opportunities.
On a weekend outing, you’ll figure out where you should spend most of your time and then have plenty of time to devote to that. Some people could be future clients. One could be your next employer. One could fund your business. Lots of your weekend mates could just give you great advice and moral support.
All of this is valuable and you need time to cultivate those interactions.
There’s another advantage to off-the-grid networking, too: In an extended away-from-home session, you get some time to reflect. In a typical middle-of-the-week networking conversation, your mind will spark with interesting thoughts that could lead to fun initiatives or projects.
While the neurons start firing, though, the spark doesn’t lead to a flame. There’s so much other stimulation that your brilliant idea is lost for three months or a year until it bubbles up again.
In a less-stimulated environment, you can take the time to ponder these ideas, which are sparked and accelerated by engaging one-on-one or small-group conversation. You can leave the weekend with a whole new business idea. Truly! I’ve seen it happen.
Yes, it’s hard to get away from the grind.
You may want to schedule at least one of these off-site events for yourself every year or when your business life needs a boost. The combination of time away, people to stimulate your thinking and a change of venue is powerful. When it comes to recharging your batteries, who’s going to do it if you don’t for yourself?
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.