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by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | March 11, 2013

Elizabeth ZielinskiBy Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM

In past blog posts, I’ve discussed the value and quality of education at our industry meetings. But we attend these meetings for more than just education; we also attend for the networking opportunities. And in some cases, we might attend for only that reason, if we find the education lacking.

Also, as planners we often are charged with creating a high-quality networking event. Knowing what’s useful to ourselves at these types of events is helpful toward creating them for others, too.

What follows are some basic rules for crafting quality networking for yourself or for attendees.

1. Choose (or plan) carefully. Some events are worth your time, and others are not. And never forget that time is money, so even if the event is free, it comes at a cost if the time is spent poorly. The most obvious qualification for your attendance might be specialization in your planning segment — government, corporate, association, etc. — but you can move a bit out of your typical circle, too. For example, an association planner in the health-care industry might find it beneficial to network with pharmaceutical-industry planners. The key is locating the people who can actually offer some benefit to your own career via knowledge or products, rather than choosing blindly based on what looks good in an invitation. Similarly, when you are building your own event intended for networking, cross-marketing to related industries can increase the depth of your attendee base — but don’t stray too far from your core interest group.

2. Have clear goals. That’s what good planning always comes down to, so this isn’t new information. But you might not be accustomed to goal-setting as it applies to networking. Just as you would write goals for any event you are planning, you should also write them for events you are attending. Writing the goals down makes them concrete intentions and not just hopes or expectations.

3. Build relationships, not a database. Don’t collect business cards indiscriminately if you aren’t interested in taking the time to develop the business relationship. You can’t afford to say “you never know” about each contact you make, and you shouldn’t expect your own attendees to do that, either. If you can’t make the connection meaningful in some way, then it isn’t really a connection at all. You should, however, keep your mind open to new contacts and not be dismissive of those that might not align obviously with your interests.

4. Know your own value. Networking isn’t just about what others can do for you, it’s also about what you can do for them. One basic premise of influence is that people will return favors that are paid to them. So you also are building your personal brand when you assist others toward their own goals.

5. Treat networking as a career investment. Going to these events is not cheap, particularly when travel is involved. The expense to attend one of our industry conferences easily approaches $2,000 if you have air and hotel expenses in addition to conference registration. Will the event you attend (or plan) offer a return on that amount, in terms of business revenue or career promotion? This is about the success you are building for yourself, so you shouldn’t dismiss an event just because your employer isn’t paying for it, nor should you attend it simply because they are.

Whatever your professional path holds, everything will come down to having solid relationships with present and future colleagues and partners. That’s true in any industry, but particularly with those of us who specialize in hospitality, which is at the core of connection.

What are some of your tips for making your networking more meaningful? I’d love to hear your ideas, either in the comments below or via email to LizontheBiz@gmail.com.