Networking events are a lot like Lurch from the Addams Family — long, awkward, and a little scary. But you know what else they both do? Open a lot of doors.
For young professionals, these happy hours and mixers may be an important way to make connections and start growing your network, but sweet heavens are they boring. And when your friends are at the bar watching Monday Night Football, it’s hard to justify spending your evening in fruitless and insufferable chit-chat, eating spinach wrapped in puff pastry, and rehearsing your elevator pitch.
That’s why I’ve devised a fail-safe strategy to help you win at The Networking Game without drowning in small talk.
- Periods are 15 minutes each. You can endure virtually anything for 15 minutes. So, divide the event into 15 minute segments and set an objective for each.
- Unlimited players may participate. Tonight, maybe it’s just you. But next month, maybe you have three or four colleagues who are attending.
- The winner is the person who collects the highest point total, based on the scorecard below. Based on the structure and schedule of the event, you should decide the order of the periods. You may add additional categories, which must be agreed upon in advance.
- There must be a winner. You don’t just get a participation certificate. Play to win. At the end of regulation, if there is a tie, the players must go into sudden death overtime. The winner is the first to score an additional point.
- Keep it professional. None of the categories on the scorecard should compromise your employment, make others look foolish, or distract those who are enjoying the event in earnest.
- Your goal is still to make real connections and build a network. This is just a different approach.
Business Cards Period:
- 1 Point: Each business card you collect
- 1 Point: Each email address of the person who forgot his/her business card
- 1 Bonus Point: Each business card that is not standard dimensions (bonus points)
“I Should Introduce You To ___” Period:
- 3 Points: If you are able to make a useful connection between two people at the event (i.e., You need a grantwriter! Well, I should introduce you to Shawn. Shawn, this is Alex.”)
- 2 Points: If you are able to make a useful connection between two people you know.
“Degrees of Separation” Period:
- 1 Point: Identify a connection to your former colleague
- 1 Point: Identify a connection to your friend
- 1 Point: Identify a connection to your own family member
- 1 Point: Identify a connection to your own school, university, or hometown
The Puppy Theory (or, why it works)
Ever notice how easy it is to say hello to a stranger walking her puppy? Or why the guys playing frisbee seem so carefree and fun, even when they drill you in the shin? When you’re enjoying yourself and have a clear task/responsibility, you appear confident and engaged. You’re approachable. People gravitate to you, if only to see what all the fuss is.
At networking events, we too often appear sullen and detached while fidgeting with our iPhones. We’re uncomfortable and anxious. No one wants to meet that guy. And you’re better than that.
With a little creativity, networking events can be productive and fun. But you have to play to win.
What other scoring categories would you add? Add your additions in the comments section below.
This guest post written by Kelaine Conochan, who sporadically posts on Benign Humor, her personal blog. Kelaine is a runner, writer, tomboy, and milk drinker. She is currently working on a novel, but then again, who isn’t?