I’ve always struggled with the networking aspects of attending conferences and other professional events. While I’m someone who loves to talk with new people, I have tended to only explore connections with those where the interaction felt really genuine or natural. If that instant connection wasn’t there, I told myself that it wasn’t worth reaching out after the event. But I recently realized that even when I felt that instant connection, I still wasn’t reaching out after meeting someone at an event. I didn’t want to “bother” the other person, particularly if there wasn’t some practical or immediate reason to follow-up with them. And I didn’t want to feel like I was pressuring them to further our connection or to pursue a business relationship. This approach left me with an untouched stack of other people’s business cards and a lot of missed opportunities.
Starting and promoting You Can Leadership has me out at a lot of professional events and I recently attended a conference we were sponsoring. So a few weeks ago I resolved to approach these events and networking differently. Instead of waiting for the clouds to part and the sun to shine upon some instant connection, I was going to take action by:
Reaching out with a quick email after exchanging business cards.
I’ve started sending short and quick emails to people I’ve met at professional events. Just a few lines in the days after the event to say that I enjoyed meeting them, or to wish them luck in an endeavor they mentioned, or share the full title of a book we discussed or I think they might enjoy. I may also add a line to my email suggesting getting together for coffee or finding a time to chat via phone. I was particularly inspired by a presentation Tracy Jenkins gave on Informational Interviewing, and have asked for a time to meet or talk so that I can learn more about their career path and current role or industry.
Sending thanks and kudos to presenters, event organizers and others who made a positive contribution or impression on me.
I’ve also started reaching out to presenters, event organizers or others who made an impression on me at an event. These are often people I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with or to introduce myself. I just send a quick email letting them know I enjoyed their talk, appreciated their work, or was impressed by something they did or said. I may also suggest getting together for coffee or finding time to talk via phone to get to learn more or get to know them. Who doesn’t enjoy getting positive feedback? I recently received such an email myself and it really brightened my week!
While some of these connections have (at least so far) ended with just an email exchange, some have resulted in meetings and conversations that have been really wonderful - I’ve learned a lot and gotten to know some really interesting people. Approaching networking as an opportunity for me to thank someone or to learn more about them has also made networking feel less forced for me - I’m simply opening a door to a possible connection. The worst that can happen is that they don’t respond. But the possibilities for developing a genuine connection are certainly worth the small effort.
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