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Networking: Best Practices and Things to Watch Out For

January 16, 2018
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As a professional in any industry, whether that be in construction, engineering, finance or real estate, you’re only as good as your network. In an industry as reliant on word-of-mouth, reputation, personal referrals, and team chemistry as marketing or advertising, it becomes especially crucial.

There are likely networking events happening all over your city today. There are nearly infinite options to choose from. But with so many to choose from, how can you decide which one will be worth your time? What differentiates one from the other, and why is one ultimately the more successful of the two?

I wanted to understand how to network more effectively. And like many of you would, I started to do that by evaluating which ones I spent time attending. The best way to do that is to attend as many different events as possible, and see if I could find any common themes among different event types.

In the sections below, I’ll summarize what several key event types look like, and their pros, cons, and takeaways so that you as the reader have a good sense of what you may be getting yourself into should you decide to attend to a networking event.

Each networking event will be unique in it’s own way, but how they are structured will dictate in many ways how much true value it will provide you, and how much it can tangibly help you build your network.

#1 – The Mixer

Networking mixers are the most common type of event that is held in my experience. Because of this, it is also the one with the most ambiguity. Mixers can range to each side of the spectrum in terms of usefulness – mainly because it can attract just as many serious networking attendees as it does fun-loving socialites who are just looking for an excuse to grab a drink or some food with a coworker after hours.

The structure of a “mixer” is different than that of other types, in that every event is intended strictly to be a fun, social time as opposed to there being any kind of ulterior mission or goal by whoever is putting on the event. There’s no agenda, no workshop, no mandatory attendance hours, or any of the kind of structural obligations that can often bog down other types of events.

What this means, though, is that if you’re someone who has some timid social tendencies, or often finds themselves getting uncomfortable in trying to walk up to a total stranger and starting a conversation, this may not be the event type for you. As you can also probably imagine, the type of person who finds this kind of event useful are often sales representatives, or people who come from more social industries like marketing.

I’d liken these events to speed dating in a sense; this is because you can expect to go into the night and have a lot of very high-level conversations in a short amount of time. I personally used this event type as a chance to learn more about as many of the industries represented there as possible, since the audience that will attend is much more dependent on that person’s personal attributes and preferences, rather than any kind of industry exclusivity.

In terms of value, I found these events to be very useful and practical, as long as I went in with the right expectations. They were great opportunities to learn more information about people, how they got into their roles, how they got into their industries, and any pain points they typically see there. This way, down the line, I will have this in my knowledge bank and be able to draw from it should I ever need to in the future.

All in all, here were some key takeaways from my experience in the mixer setting:

  • Can be noisy at the venue, so it’s hard to have a super in-depth conversation with anyone. Lots of higher level and more superficial conversations taking place.
  • Attracts social people, so even if you’re shy, you will have someone walk up to you and start a conversation. Be prepared with a quick anecdotal pitch on who you are, and what you do.
  • The amount of value that you derive from the event is based totally on your will to network (as intuitive as that sounds). There are no focus groups or structured conversation.
  • It is a good event type to attend to learn information about different industries.
    • The best mixers, in my opinion, have representation from many different industries – but it can hone in on one as well

#2 – The Workshop

Workshops are interesting. They often are marketed and trickled out to people via email campaigns or advertisements as full-blown “networking” events, but in actuality they differ from the traditional concept of a networking event because there is only a set amount of time that is to be used for socializing. From there, there is a little bit more of a rigid schedule than for other networking events.

Typically, a workshop is put on by one specific company or group. They will often host this event at their offices, or at least very nearby. There will be socializing for the first hour or so, followed by a workshop, followed by some more networking or food & drink.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, if a specific company is the one that is hosting – this is a chance to establish themselves as thought leaders and experts in the space. The workshop topic is always around one of their core offerings. For example, the one that I attended was put on by a creative and interactive agency in the Encinitas area. As you can imagine, the workshop was on ideating & creative process, where to draw inspiration from, and how to apply that to effective assets.

This ties into the second reason companies will do this – because it showcases their area of tangible expertise, and attracts a crowd of people who are likely seeking answers around best practices. This opens the door for attendees to become potential clients oftentimes.

These can be very, very valuable – but realistically only if your goal is to refine a skillset and network with people who can assist and consult you on it. It usually isn’t the best place to meet potential connections for business purposes, as conversation is short and people’s goals with attending are to get better at something (not necessarily always meeting new business connections).

Here are the biggest takeaways from “workshop” networking event types:

  • Great to refine a particular skillset
  • Attracts a crowd of people who work in similar industries, have similar needs, or have similar interests
  • Great place to gain a network of potential resources for that skillset – not the best place to meet business prospects
  • The company that hosts the workshop always gets a ton of value out of hosting workshops, like the Creative Workshop I attended in the form of thought leadership, showcasing of expertise, and attracting a crowd of people to their brand that might not have been interested otherwise.

#3 – The Awards Ceremony

This is probably the one even type where I personally had the most success in networking. I’ve attended many different awards ceremonies over the years, and they have always been great opportunities to network effectively. Why? Because the other businesses that are being recognized there are being recognized for high performance.

You have a room full of high performers at your disposal, whose businesses are clearly trending upward in some capacity.  It’s a great opportunity to walk around a room of people, and not only refine your skills socially, but learn from some of the best in their respective industries. This is a great opportunity to get insight into some of the nuances of an industry or business, common pain points, consumption trends, etc.

Being there representing a company that was being honored at the SDBJ Best Places to Work this year, and Fastest Growing Companies the year prior, you have a unique chance to let your company speak for itself, so you get to have a more candid and open conversation with people whom you’d like to add to your network as opposed to giving a ton of background into what you do that loses them along the way.

The structure of the “Awards Ceremony” follows a similar one to that of the “Workshop”. What I mean by this, is that there is time prior to the ceremony for networking. That being said, this is more like a mixer, where people are checking in, getting drinks, and eating food/speaking to people from their company, anxious about the results.

After that is the award presentation ceremony, followed by another round of networking. This last round of networking is especially crucial. By this time, business owners and decision makers that have attended the event have a sense of what your business is, what services you provide, and how reputable you are since you were mentioned in the ceremony and program. This cuts out some more of the small talk around your background, and allows you to see if there is opportunity to partner or network further with any of the other companies’ attendees!

Big takeaways from “awards ceremonies”:

  • Don’t try and rush around, talking to as many people as you possibly can (like people tend to do in a mixer setting). Get good, valuable or detailed insight from people about their business and industry by striking up meaningful conversations.
  • It will be the most valuable to you if you go in with a bit of a game plan. Look at which businesses will have representatives in attendance, and spend some time seeking them out on the floor during the networking portion of the event.
  • Let your businesses performance speak for itself, or give only a brief background on it. Then move the conversation towards learning more from whomever you’re speaking with!

Wrapping It All Up

Networking events can be intimidating at times, and in other instances a pure waste of time when hosted incorrectly, especially if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Some have a more social goal, where you get to meet a ton of people. Some have a skillset goal, where the host is speaking or demonstrating one of their competencies for a few different reasons. There’s also some that are a combination of an awards show and a mixer. There are even types not listed here, like mastermind group meet ups, that are designed to get you thinking critically about your industry, and surround you with a good support system.

Each has it’s own discernable type of value that attendees can derive from them – it’s just a matter of what your personal and business priorities are, as well as what you’re most comfortable with. If you find yourself doing better and excelling at interacting with people in a more intimate setting, the mastermind meetup or workshop events might be the best option for you, as opposed to a mixer. Conversely, if you’re an extremely social person who thrives at social venues like bars or restaurants, maybe the mixer is what makes the most sense for you.

My recommendation is to take a look at the above, and decide for yourself on which makes the most sense to you. Regardless of what kind of event you try to attend, I just want to iterate more point to you all; none of this matters as much as your willingness to go out and grow your network.

If you want to grow your network and meet people in the right way, any of these venues would make sense. The only difference will be what capacity you’re able to interact with the other attendees in, and for how long.

Growing your personal network is crucial, and with these tips, you’ll be one step closer to finding the right networking event that’s worth your time, and falls in line with your goals. Happy networking!


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