A different kind of corporate networking event

Old-fashioned networking

Old-fashioned networking

There we were, over 100 of us, gathered at a networking event. And it struck me that people have been holding these kinds of events, in the same format, for perhaps 50 or even 100 years. 

Groups of 10 sat at large round tables and listened to a panel talk about their networking experiences. Then the people at each table introduced themselves and discussed a few questions. Some people handed out business cards before they left.

True, we did meet some people and we did talk about networking. But we didn’t actually change how people develop relationships or make any meaningful connections.

 “There has got to be a better way,” I thought.

“How did you get your current job?”

One of the questions we discussed was “How did you get your current job?” And the answers underscored how most people take a scattershot approach to networking and really do play career roulette.

A recent finance graduate, for example, happened to attend our company’s event on campus and wound up in an arcane business area. Another person’s company was acquired and so now she had a new boss at a new firm. My favorite was an experienced person whose prior business was shut down. He got his current job after bumping into an old acquaintance at a bar. 

Old Acquaintance: “What are you up to?”  

Experienced Person: “I’m looking for something new.”

Old Acquaintance: “Oh, I think a friend of mine is hiring at his firm. Are you interested?”

Experienced Person (to the table): “So I sent him a note, and here I am.”

Everyone agreed that building a network is important and they all wanted to do something about it. But what?

The same themes, over and over and over

As people described their experiences with networking, the common theme seemed to be frustration:

“I don’t have any time.”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I know I should follow up but I don’t.” 

Ironically, the event just increased their frustration. It further reinforced what they already knew (“I should be networking more!”) without providing them with a better way of doing it. After the event, everyone would still struggle with time, technique, and a lack of a system or new habits.

That motivated me to make some simple adjustments to the next event I’d participate in.

5 ways to make networking events better

The best networking experiences I’ve ever been a part of are dinners hosted by Keith Ferrazzi. Aside from the food and drink, the venue and the small tables designed to promote better interactions, he also gets people to know and care about each other. And he does that by sharing personal information and asking probing questions. At one of his dinners, you can do more than meet people. You can make friends for life.

What if our corporate networking events were more like that? Even if you can’t control the food, the venue, or the tables, here are 5 simple things you can do to make networking events better.

  1. Prepare rich profiles: Prepare in-depth profiles of everyone in the room, including links to their LinkedIn pages or other public profiles. 
  2. Ask humanizing questions: In the profile, include questions such as “What are you passionate about?” and “What’s your superpower?” to avoid people simply providing their corporate title and work history. Provide a real example of an interesting profile.
  3. Allow time to explore: Share the profiles ahead of time so everyone can look for people they’d like to meet at the event. Make sure they can access the profiles during the event, too, and give them time to browse.
  4. Offer helpful nudges: At least one person should be a designated match-maker, making introductions based on things they’ve noticed from carefully reviewing all of the profiles. (“You two were both in the Peace Corps! You should definitely know each other.”
  5. Build in a little structure: Help people with follow-ups by structuring specific actions into the event. It could be “Make 3 new LinkedIn connections during the event”. (Or, better yet, use your company’s social platform if you have one.) Or “Schedule a lunch & 2 coffees before the night is over.” 

Next time, instead of having everyone just talk about networking, make sure they can actually practice it.

What do you think? What made your great networking experiences great? What would you do to make your next event better?

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement, Social Business and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A different kind of corporate networking event

  1. Sanjay Rughani says:

    Interesting review on Networking. Do like the point of ‘humanising’ the discussions, to attain a better understanding. There is a point I believe one needs take on board:
    • Your ‘Network’ – is your ‘Networth’

  2. moyramackie says:

    I am constantly staggered by “organisers” of events who think that throwing people in a room will lead to something. None of your suggestions are rocket science (sorry!) and any decent facilitator would do those things – and plenty of others too. With a little bit of thought and quite a bit of planning it isn’t very hard to construct an event that is rich and gets people mixing. You don’t need food or even wine, you need someone in charge of planning who understands group dynamics.

  3. Have a look to “Participatory Leadership” techniques, also called the Art of Hosting. These techniques may provide you solutions for better networking events with “Conversations that Matter”. It works :).
    Look at http://www.artofhosting.org/ or google “the art of participatory leadership”

    • John Stepper says:

      Excellent. I’ll look into it. Thank you very much, Claudio.

    • John Stepper says:

      Fascinating. As I take a break from reading to look at the site you suggest, the first thing I do is check out the books they recommend. Included in their short list is the book I’m holding in my hands and have been tweeting about just minutes earlier – specifically a quote about synchronicity.


      Here’s the book:

      Presence, by Betty Sue Flowers, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Peter Senge
      This year long series of conversations reveals the human capacity to “presence”—to pre-sense, to become present to an emerging future .

  4. John says:

    Interesting that your number 2 is about “humanizing”. What I have found as I network in search of connections and new employment is that recruiters and hiring managers aren’t seeking humans but replaceable automatons. Nearly 30 years since graduating I have had a recruiter ask about my gpa. After an extensive professional career I found it difficult to see the relevance of this question and the recruiter offered no explanation. It seems more about how many languages you can program or what software you have previously used.
    When I was building my team at my former employer, as I recruited I was always concerned with the type of person I was hiring. How would they deal with the commute? How would they fit with an older/younger manager? What interested them outside work? My team was very successful. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any organization that really values its people as more than replaceable, non-human, cogs in a wheel.

  5. Claire says:

    Interesting take on modern business networking. I can imagine that not a lot has changed from the old days as the principle is still the same, meet and gain contacts to help one another in business.

  6. Not sure if my prior comment posted as I forgot to login first. Will wait then try again.

  7. Dennis Pearce says:

    Excellent recommendations, John. And it’s a strange coincidence that shortly after reading your post, I listened to this episode of the “Future Tense” podcast: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/generating-innovation-through-the-ideal-of-the-idea/5037532

    The host interviewed several people who critiqued the now-popular format of idea festivals such as TED and asked whether they are really accomplishing their goals. There are many things in the world that keep people apart, but it’s ironic that networking events and idea festivals, both specifically designed to bring people together, can inadvertently contribute to the problem rather than alleviating it.

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