Tuesday 17 February 2015

Tips for Association Networking Sessions

This is final instalment in the series on Networking, as written by Dana Cooper, MBA, CAE (Executive Director, Orthotics Prosthetics Canada)

Too often I see events that are intended to be networking events, but establish barriers for effective networking.  There are many things associations can do to facilitate networking.  A few are shared here:

  • Ditch the chairs!  Networking is about circulating and meeting as many people as possible to find those nuggets of value.  It is increasingly difficult to do this in a group of four to six others seated at the same table.  If chairs are necessary, put them around the side of the rooms for people to have more in-depth discussions and pay homage to the smartphone gods.
  • Environment is critical.  Choose a location that contributes to low volume conversations and the circulation of people.  Participants will need to manage the food and beverage that will be part of the evening, so include high table and tools to help them stand and circulate.
  • Names are important.  Help people remember or get to know names, positions and organizations.  Much of what will be discussed will relate to professions.  Provide context to those conversations by providing name badges with names, positions and organization name.
  • Facilitate personal connections.  You can facilitate incorporating personal connections into the events in a number of ways.  You can include a networking activity to find out information on others, or at the beginning of the event, ask questions of the crowd so that people can see others that may have similar interests.  Who likes to ski?  Who play an instrument?  Who has children under 10?  These are door openers to communication and immediately break down barriers and create connections.
Networking is one of the most valuable activities for your members and for your organization in terms of the member value proposition.  That value comes from making the connections that your association was created to facilitate.

With peer networking, there is very little risk and potential significant reward.  It should be enjoyable!  By being there, the only commitment participants should have is to enjoy themselves and come with the intent of helping others and being helped.  

Your association needs to be strategic about how it structures its networking events to facilitate the creation and realization of value for your members.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday 10 February 2015

10 Tips for Networking Success

This is part 3 in the series on Networking, as written by Dana Cooper, MBA, CAE (Executive Director, Orthotics Prosthetics Canada)

Prepare in advance.

Take some time before the event to understand what information would be valuable to you.  Objectives can include:

  • Finding others who have addressed issues you are currently facing;
  • Event experiences: conference locations, speakers, etc.;
  • Bring a question or two that you want to ask others;
  • Identify a position or an organization type you want to meet.
Have realistic objectives.

Ultimately, what you want to leave with are connections that can be valuable to you at some point in the future.  You should try to connect with several people during the course of the event.  You don't need the answers to your challenges during the networking...what you want is someone to connect with later to discuss their experiences.

Your challenges are likely not unique!

At your association events, attendees are in a room full of peers with a great deal in common.  While everyone thinks their organizations, members, issues and challenges are unique, it is very likely not the case.  There will be someone out there that can help.  They may not be at the event at that time, but there are people in attendance that can help make those connections.

Your challenges may not be unique...but you are!  Make it personal!

Don't just talk shop, talk about yourself.  There are many things that connect people to each other.  Ask questions of the other that are not work related.  Personal connections are the most powerful connections to make and will be much for memorable.  Encourage people to discuss something personal about themselves.  This is an area in which your association can facilitate networking.

Follow up after the event.

Contrary to days gone by where you had to organize business cards or record your connections to remember, today with have social media that helps us remember our connections and facilitate future communication.  Connect with your acquaintances on a social media platform.  Then when you are looking for resources, your social media connections should be the first source and a great memory cue for remembering the people we have connected with.

Have fun!

This is the fun part of the business!  This should not be terrifying!  This is not an "I HAVE to go to this event" this should be an "I GET to go to this event".  Networking in a room of people with much in common is low risk.  There should be no pressure.  It should be a forum to connect with people that may potentially be of value.

Look for ways to help others.

There are few better feelings than being able to assist someone with an issue or challenge.  Not only does it provide them with value, but it also confirms that you have value to provide to others.

Be a communication facilitator.

Be that person that brings the introverts into the conversations.  You can see the anxiety release from them and they become participants rather than bystanders.  It just takes that one effort to make them feel involved.

You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression.

As many people are at the event, there are that many different personalities.  Match your personality to those you are speaking with.  You don't want to scare people by being overly aggressive, you want to make connections with people that will want to converse with you again.  If you are bold, it is much easier for you to adjust your personality down in terms of energy and volume than it is for the timid to raise theirs to your level.

Be in the moment.

The key to communicating, remembering, and positively connecting is to pay attention and listen to what people are saying.  There are few things worse than being engaged in a one-on-one and the other person is looking around the room or over your shoulder at others.  Be conscious of where your attention is...and it should be on the individual or individuals you are currently engaged with.  Today we have many potential distractions, including the smartphone you carry.  Let calls go to voicemail.  When there is a break in the conversation, sneak away to a corner and check.

Stay tuned for the final instalment of this series; "Tips for Association Networking Sessions".

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Networking - Value & Outcomes

This is part 2 in the series on Networking, as written by Dana Cooper, MBA, CAE (Executive Director, Orthotics Prosthetics Canada)

Why is networking so valued?

During peer networking, there is someone within that room that has something each participant wants or needs.  It is lie a mystery game...they just have to find who has that something.  Your role as an association is to facilitate those connections.

  • It is energizing and fun.  Enjoyment provides as much value to members as the information they obtain.  Don't forget that!
  • Fulfils our most basic social need.  We are human animals...we need our pack...our social connections are important and define our personal and professional self.
  • Face-to-face communications is the most personal and the most effective manner for engaging.
  • Networking gives you solutions to problems.  You get answers to questions...sometimes you get this before you even know you have a problem or question.
  • Networking gives you comparables.  It gives you context on where your organization is in terms of processes and functions in relation to other associations.
  • Networking gives you allies.  "Been there, done that" should be the motto for association networking events.  To paraphrase a famous and frequently misrepresented quote, "Everything you are or will be doing as an association has already been (or is being) done by another association."
  • Build your personal 'brand'; career development.  Networking is that first impression.  What can people expect from you?  Sources suggest that 70-80% of all jobs are found through networking.  Networking is also a valuable source to find viable candidates to hire.
  • Networking is (should be!) a low risk environment.  Your association's gatherings are attended by like-minded people with many things in common including being in the same industry and having similar needs and challenges.
What are the possible outcomes of networking?

The outcomes from networking are very much personal and dependent on the individual.  However, it is helpful to understand what the potential outcomes are from networking.  I have broken those down into three categories, each an evolution from the preceding.

Three Categories of Networking Outcomes:
  • Natural
  • Purposeful
  • Organic
The minimum result of networking is that you make acquaintances.  This is the natural outcome of networking.  The majority of those acquaintances will stay just that...acquaintances.  Interactions extend no further than future association events.  The benefit is that acquaintances can walk into the event and see familiar faces that can immediately and comfortably be engaged.

The purposeful outcome is an increase in value obtained from networking, and occurs when interaction takes place following the networking event to obtain more detail on a professional matter that was identified during networking.  One party has experience or resources to provide the other to assist in managing a challenge.

The organic outcome involves increased social risk, but results from making a strong personal and/or professional connection.  The organic outcomes are broken down further into three possibilities:  
  • Coffee mates:  these are people that you have made a professional connection with due to similarity in roles or organizations and with whom you want to maintain a connection.  You would have coffee with these connections several times a year for the purposes of discussing ongoing challenges and issues.
  • Lunch/Drink mates:  these are people you have made both a personal and professional connection with and are characterized by the increased social risk of lengthier get-togethers.
  • Friends:  this is when you have made a strong personal connection with the individual and where communication extends beyond the profession.  At this stage there is increased openness and relaxation and there is an expectation of enjoyment when together.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series; which offers 10 tips for networking success!