Professional Networking – Tips from the Field

Later this month, I’ll be presenting project management principles at the 4th Annual Medical Device Validation Week conference.  Managers, directors, and executives in the medical device industry come from all over to learn and share with others in the field.  I’ll have a captive audience in my target market.  In this article, I’ll share some of my personal tips and tricks in making the most out of in-person events.

Networking Before the Event

One of the biggest benefits of in-person events is the networking opportunities that are presented.  However, networking need not wait until the day of the event.  Instead, the savvy networker will begin prior to the event.  There are several tactics that may be considered in pre-event networking.  The two methods I found most effective include getting a list of presenters / attendees from the event coordinator and posting on LinkedIn.

The main goal of pre-event networking is to line up appointments.  Period.  You will make the most of your valuable time at events when you already have your calendar booked rather than walking around the day.  After all, other attendees are doing the same thing and competing for the same connections.  Do your homework and your networking time will be spent in quality conversations and building stronger relationships.

Networking During the Event

So, you have your appointments lined up, maybe even lunch or dinner plans.  But you still have some availability on your calendar, and you want to connect with other attendees who you were not able to connect with prior.  You will still want to go in with a pre-game plan, otherwise you will waste a lot of time wandering about hoping to connect with someone.  Anyone.

Human behavior hacker Vanessa Edwards cracked the code and shares the results of her research in Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People.  In this essential work, she introduces 3 skills to a winning social game plan:

  1. Play you position. Know which places and situations where you thrive, which are neutral, and those where you barely survive.  Position yourself in the places and situations where you are at your best and avoid the areas and situations where you are not.
  2. Work the room. Identify 3 key zones at the event: the Start Zone, the Side Zone, and the Social Zone.  Avoid the Start Zone, as this is where attendees are first coming in.  There is a lot of hustle, confusion, and people are trying to get their bearings.  The Side Zone is another area to avoid.  These include at the food table or bar, within groups of friends, and near the restrooms.  The Social Zone includes the areas just near the food table and bar, as folks have a fresh drink or plate of food and are most open to socialize.
  3. Know your team. You’re not in this alone.  Know who your wingers are.  They’re the ones who you want to go along on your social adventure with you.  They make you feel comfortable and can often help break the ice with others.  Also know your risers; these are people you may want to further improve your connection with.

For example, I am very comfortable presenting to both small and large groups alike.  In a social setting, I prefer smaller group discussions and I know I am not one to break into a group uninvited.  Thus, the speaking engagement is right up my alley, I have a few appointments already lined up (including a dinner meeting), and I’ll plan to work the room just beyond the food table and bar.  As for my wingers, I invited one and I anticipate there will be one or two I can reconnect with at the event.

Networking After the Event

You worked hard!  You made your game plan, spent a few weeks in pre-event networking, attended the event, did a bit of networking, and you’ve returned home.  Done, right? No!  The networking continues well after the event.  Did you have a good conversation with a new connection?  Follow up to continue the conversation.  Did you gather that you can help someone you met at the event?  Reach out and offer to help them.

Networking is all about relationship building.  I can link almost every success in my career and business to the relationships I’ve developed in my professional network.  My final tip is to go in with the mindset of looking to give rather than to get.  Give selflessly to the benefit of others and your network will grow stronger and stronger as years go by.

Sharing Is Caring!