By Samantha Greves
As the CEI winds down, I took a few minutes to consider some of the things I’ve learned this year about networking. My strategies have changed each year, but I’m always trying to improve. During my first time at the CEI, I was definitely more concerned with quantity over quality. I think I handed a business card to anyone I sat or stood next to for more than 20 seconds, and accumulated close to 50 over the 4 days. I was savvy enough to review those cards and connect with everyone on LinkedIn, but that is essentially where my process ended. Once we had a virtual connection, I failed to feed or nurture the relationship. I had lots of connections, but no one I thought I could actually talk to.
Last year, I was much better about keeping the connections alive. My conversations during the conference were longer and more meaningful, and I often sought people out several times. I also became more active on LinkedIn between events, commenting on my connection’s posts, writing a few blog posts, and sharing articles I thought my network might find useful.
This year, I was able to really solidify the connections I had made previously. I chatted with friends and colleagues and made sure to set aside time to reconnect. Sometimes the networking breaks weren’t long enough, so I coordinated lunches or time to grab coffee. I also made sure to meet a few people in person that I had only connected with online, as well as many I had never met before. Here are some additional new tactics I picked up this time around:
- Tuck your business cards into your conference ID badge – This year, I utilized the large canvas tote provided by the SCCE for carting around all of my swag. But I can’t tell you how many times I would toss my cards into the abyss and not be able to find them at a critical moment. One of my new connections suggested I tuck a few into the badge worn around my neck so that they would always be handy.
- Keep your online profile picture current – A few months ago, I decided that the old saying “blondes have more fun” is not not true, and I went back to my natural hair color. No big deal right? Not so fast. I was shocked to frequently hear “Oh! I didn’t recognize you! You’re blonde in your picture online.” If you want people to find you easily, help them out by keeping your picture current.
- Look for the person standing by themselves – There is always someone lingering near a table during the networking breaks by themselves, and they are almost universally grateful that someone else approached them and started a conversation. It may seem like a cheap pick-up line, but I often say something like “I saw you alone and wanted to introduce myself.” It’s actually so much easier to start a new conversation rather than try to insert yourself into one that’s already active.
- Engage with people you see often – There are so many sessions to choose from at the CEI, so if you see the same few people in many of your sessions, chances are you have something in common. You may be working on the same focus area, or you may have the same pain. Either way, you have something to share.
- Engage with anyone and everyone – There were many people I talked to this year who I had very little in common with. But in several cases, someone I knew was looking for just that kind of connection. I was able to put others in touch, an action I hope they would do for me. You never know who you might run in to.
I hope you find these tips useful and would love to hear of any others you may have perfected. Although this was my experience at one kind of event, the concepts translate well to any social situation.
Your network is a valuable commodity. It can sustain you during times of challenge and between in-person events. It may take several years to truly develop, but it is definitely worth it.