After organizing more than 100 local meet ups ranging from 25-200 people, designing the program for three international workshops each attended by more than 120 clients, shooting video at two user group conferences, and leading a customer workshop session I can say this from experience:
Don't go at it alone
Partnering with speakers, service providers, the team providing the venue, and conference/workshop attendees will make your event much more successful.
Designing an engaging experience begins with the connections you make in building the event.
Think back at the conferences and events you attended in the last year, and I bet you can tell which ones were the result of collaboration among teams.
Did you feel overwhelmed by too much going on in some parts of the program and not enough in others? Were you hoping to get more out of networking with other attendees? If you were an exhibitor or sponsor, were you able to make meaningful introductions?
Maybe you don't organize events. Maybe you attend many. Whether you're organizing or just attending, not connecting makes it a waste of time.
Why we struggle to connect
In a recent interview, Thom Singer explains the reasons we struggle with networking. First among them, the cultural belief that we need to strive and achieve alone.
Based on research by the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, Americans share the unconscious assumption that the base unit of American culture is the individual, not the family, clan, tribe, or nation.
This means the measure of success for a networking situation is the value gained by the individual person and brand participating.
Success is the product of long term relationships of mutual benefit. Which is why it's important to get out of card-collection and get into people-connection mode.
Here are 30 connective things you can do at a conference to get you started.
Execution is about relationships
Being connected helps us put what we learn to good use. This is true for businesses as it is for individuals. Connections are also situational and contextual, just like influence.
Although as humans we are inherently social, there are no "best practices" in being human, only the most practice in figuring out what works for you in developing relationships.
We all struggle with time constraints, attention deficit, and (some) sleep deprivation. The easy way out of connecting is not going, or "just browsing" when in the room. Do that enough times and you won't know what you're missing -- literally.
Here are two things I found helpful to get in the mood and out more:
Schedule appointments near the event location
This is the best way to win over the initial resistance to get out by putting you within reach of the event a few hours earlier. Getting to the venue early often gives you a few moments with the hosts, who may be able to make the most relevant introductions as people arrive.
If you're not sure which organization or event will be most useful to you, try a couple over the course of a few weeks. This method allows you to discover more groups and get to know new professionals as well.
Plan to go with a friend
Especially if the venue is far, car pooling gives you the perfect setting to catch up with a colleague or friend on the way to the event and debrief on the way back. As long as you agree to split once you're at your destination. That way you can each get the most out of meeting new people, which is the purpose of going.
Networking is not just something we do on behalf of ourselves. Connecting people to each other in super relevant situations is a valuable skill that will make you the "go to" person between groups. In social network theory, those people are called nodes.
There is no other skill that is more critical than the ability to make connections. Have you ever thought -- why didn't I think of that? In Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson provides many examples of how we get more good ideas by connecting them.
It works with ideas for creativity and innovation and it works with people for relationships and future collaboration.
Don't let the Lone Ranger syndrome kill your chances to connect. Have a plan for direction, be open to serendipity for connection, and you'll multiply your chances for success.
- The 12 Habits of Highly Connective People
- Are you Missing Out on Connecting?
- You're Connected, Now What?
[image Credit: comic by Sergio Cariello for Dynamite Entertainment]