Last week I shared that I was painfully friend-disabled in grade school and explained how I expanded my horizons and developed greater self-awareness and self-confidence. These were lessons I carried with me to college, where I continued to be involved in various kinds of on and off-campus communities.
However, upon graduating I moved to the Jersey shore for a guy and my social circle was essentially his social circle. I was working as a temp full-time, which created challenges in deepening my relationships with co-workers, and then also worked part-time several nights a week and weekends at a radio station. Time to expand my horizons into new communities was limited and I fell out of the habit. When the relationship started to deteriorate I tried living more independently. I moved into an apartment with a few strangers who were in very different stages of life than me when I was 21 years old. The woman who sublet to me, Denise, was 35-years old, one of my roommates, Frank, was 38-years old, and another, Jimmy, was 47 years old. I imagine most readers would relate more to my roommates than me. Imagine living with the millennial at work. Now imagine that millennial was in an high-drama relationship. The more my roommates tried to impart wisdom, the more I resisted. In the end, making new friends like the ones I had, failed. After a year in New Jersey, I made zero long-term friends. When the 6-month temp assignment ended I decided it was time to move back home, change careers, and end the relationship.
When I got back home I landed a job where they provided excellent sales and management training, but required you to work long days and cut people out of your life who were “neggin you out,” or being negative about the prospects of success in that job, which was commission-only. It was cultish. I reconnected with my old friend groups and fell out of the habit, and even awareness, of expanding my horizons and integrating with new groups…until years later when I was a junior IT recruiter and was advised to start networking.
It was like I forgot how to do this. I started by asking my co-workers where to network. They pointed me to some professional tech groups. One focused on individuals in tech and the other was a corporate membership base. At the first meeting, I was asked to stand and give a 30-second commercial. I spent the first half-hour terrified, trying to think of the perfect thing to say only to stumble and shake through it. People were friendly and forgiving though. I realized after a few events that people who go to these events WANT to meet other people, for the most part, and will either approach you or be approachable.
It’s okay to not jump in headfirst, instead dip your toes in the water and gradually expand your comfort zone. You’ll be less likely to procrastinate or put off networking if you do this.
There are several different events that you can participate in, including industry events, role-based events, geographically-based events, mission-oriented events, special interest events, culture-specific events, gender-specific events, and general events.
Source 1: Brainstorm
Have you ever used a brainstorming map? There are multiple tools available that will help you do this (we included one used to identify networking communities with our Dream Job Breakthrough System.)
Remember the song: Who are the people in your neighborhood? The people that you meet each day? With a piece of paper or the computer in front of you (using one of the many brainstorming tools available as an option) record the various communities of which you are a member.
Some of these people could include, your family, a group of friends, people you know through school, jobs, activities/hobbies, friends of other friends, your neighborhood, your town, civic groups, your kids’ or parents’ connections, etc. Highlight groups that have their own events, then highlight in a different color communities that don’t have organized gatherings, but that you would attend events if there were events.
Then make another list of interests, hobbies, causes, and topics close to your heart, whether you actively engage in them currently or not. Highlight the items in this list as you did before. You may need to do some research to determine if they do, indeed, have events. Future steps will help you with that.
Keep networking options open to include activities and topics that you enjoy. Statistics show most leads come from networking with contacts who are not necessarily in the same industry or profession, but rather who are people you connect with on a personal level. The key is knowing how to leverage the opportunity to share your professional goals and values. This is a naturally evolving subject once rapport is established. Future blogs will go into more detail.
Source 2: Ask your co-workers, former co-workers, and friends in your industry/profession where they network
If you attend an event with someone, don’t stay attached to them, instead, work in partnership. Tell each other who you are there to meet and work as a partnership to find each other referrals. In fact, asking questions is not just easier than talking about yourself when you’re new to networking, but it’s a superior way to add value to your network.
Ask everyone you meet who they are there to meet, and proactively try to make connections for those you meet as well. After you spend a short amount of time learning from each other what you’re up to professionally, telling them you will send people their way if you find someone is a great, polite way to punctuate a networking conversation – I have found that to be the most awkward networking moment.
Source 3: Google it
This seems so obvious, but clients and students have been unclear with what keywords to use to find events. There are different types of events you can choose to attend, but it’s good to start with the one that feels less intimidating.
This is where the brainstorming map and the lists of events can be of assistance. The first criteria is location, meaning where you want to generate opportunities. If you plan on relocating, you’ll want to compile a list of events and discover when the best ones overlap in a time span so that you can plan your travel. Traveling close to home is preferred for most people, but if your mission is to expand your horizons and you live in a small town, you may need to expand your geographic search to your county or several surrounding counties. Then add keywords related to your current or desired industry, profession/role, hobbies, causes, interests, topics, etc.
Boolean searches can help you search by multiple zip codes, but you may just find it easier to look for sites that aggregate events. EventUpon is such a site. EventUpon aggregates from other event posting sites, such as MeetUp and EventBrite, and from organizations, which I’ll talk about next.
Source 4: EventUpon
If you have a free day and are looking to fill up your calendar space with an event, EventUpon is a great tool. You can also integrate with various calendar and scheduling apps you may already use. If you have a favorite event venue, you may also be able to set up an alert for their events. I have found a few bugs with the geographic filters on Safari, which don’t appear right now to let you set a certain mile radius around a zip code, though it looks as though this feature was intended.
Like a job board, you can set up agents that will alert you to ongoing networking opportunities fitting your criteria.
Source 5: MeetUp
MeetUp has become a very popular site for many professional organizations with various chapters and subgroups that meet in-person, though it does support virtual events, such as webinars, as well. It’s also great for people with eclectic interests and hobbies. You might think you have alternative tastes until you search for groups related to them and find other people are organizing around the same topic.
Again, this is not just for professional interests. I am in groups related to mindset, books, animals, adventure, sports, side hustles, health, etc. You usually have to join a group to see their event calendar, and many groups ask you to fill out some bio information, however, this is based on group admin preferences. Joining a group doesn’t necessarily obligate you to attend a meeting, but I have found some group admins are strict about their members attending or engaging and they may drop you if you fail to attend an event or if you RSVP to events with attendee limits and do not show up, for obvious reasons.
Some events are free, but the groups are not free to run and neither are events, so some will have paid events or promote donating to subsidize costs.
If you search for something and find that there is no actively running group right now, but it may tell you how many other people in your area have searched for the same thing. If you feel strongly about the subject, you might decide to set up a group yourself. LinkedIn’s group feature is a good option for this, however, there is a fee to running a LinkedIn group, which is currently $15/month. If you can afford this, try organizing your own group. You would have to think about where to meet, what kind of people you want to attract and the content that would attract those people, and the format of your meetings. You’ll also have to think about how to manage and maintain quality engagement in your community and how to deal with people who violate the safety and respect of your community.
Source 6: LinkedIn
Unlike Facebook, which has an event feature (and is another way to look for events), finding events on LinkedIn is trickier. You have to first search for organizations and event organizers, follow them, and stay on top of your home feed and notifications. You can crowdsource information there by using your status update to ask your network for advice on worthwhile events to attend.
Groups are one of the most powerful LinkedIn features, but not all groups enjoy high engagement and value. Look at profiles of people who have achieved what you aspire to achieve and see what groups they are in. Do this by scrolling all the way to the bottom where it shows interests and click “See All.” Links to groups will be found in a tab at the top of the window.
Help them help you by letting them know what you hope to get out of these events – the kinds of opportunities you want to generate, the kinds of people you want to meet, and the kinds of things you want to learn. It’s more haphazard, but doing this will also help you stay top of your connections and may generate additional engagement, leading to greater rapport and synergy.
Source 7: FaceBook Groups and Events
If you are on Facebook, you may only think about personal connections. You may even want to keep your personal and professional circles separate. That’s a personal choice you are free to make, however, it does limit your potential to generate opportunities. Assuming you want to cross-pollenate your spheres of influence, maximize opportunities, and find events that will be more comfortable, maybe even fun, you will search three places: Groups, Pages, and Events.
Groups may be closed, private, or open. Closed means an admin has to approve you. Private means it won’t show up in a search – you have to be invited. Open means anyone can join by clicking a button. Due to the nature of social media exchanges these days, most groups I engage in are closed or private. Here you can also look for professional, geographic, or special interest topics.
You can search for events, which I recommend if you happen to have a particular open spot on your calendar and you want to see what is happening at that particular time.
It’s difficult to hear people at certain kinds of events, particularly listening-room type music or movies. Go, but don’t expect to get much networking done. Find events where there are more interactive activities, such as art shows and community fairs.
See which of your friend have either said they were going to an event or are interested in going. Touch base and let them know that you’re hoping to meet new people and generate opportunities, but would like a buddy to network with.
Source 8: EventBrite
Many organizations use EventBrite for the ease of ticketing, payment integration, and social media sharing. It automates confirmations and has other features, but it also has good searching capabilities, as it has a full list of events by categories which you can search through. Try searching through all categories that align with your interests, not just the professional ones.
You can also search for events that are free versus paid, in case you have a low budget for networking.
Still search for paid events, even if you have a low or no budget. You can contact the organizer and offer to volunteer in lieu of the attendance fee. You may not be able to get all the content of that event as a volunteer, but you have an elevated position of visibility to the attendees and the organizers. It gives you the chance to demonstrate how you add value, rather than just telling people how you add value, which can generate better opportunity
Source 9: Business Journals
Business Journals have directories and lists of companies, organizations, etc that hold and promote events. There are a lot of great ways to get value from a subscription to your closest city’s business journal. However, you don’t have to have a paid subscription, you can just sign up for a daily or weekly digest and get notifications about events. Some of these events can be pricey, so you may want to find out who in your network works for a company that is investing in a table, and then see if the company has an open seat, or tell them that you’d like to go in case someone can’t go at the last minute. These events will put you right in the middle of people who are game-changers or movers and shakers in business. Unless you go and talk to no one, it would be hard to not gain value from attending.
When Business Journals announce award winners, grants, or fundraiser winners, use LinkedIn to send the person a congratulatory message and invitation to connect. Let them know that you’d like to learn how you can help them get the most traction from the publicity and invite them to a brief call or coffee. If someone is being honored at an event, contact them ahead of time and ask them if they’d like to meet before or after. You may also check out the corporate sponsors and speakers to do the same.
Once you get the hang of navigating networking events, you may also want to look into industry conferences at your local Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, Toastmasters International chapters, or Business Networking International chapters (for business owners or sales representatives), and more.
Next week we’ll talk about how to best prepare for a networking event so that you can show up as your best self and leverage it optimally.
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Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.