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Don’t miss Lowell’s CSAE Conference general session on networking, 9:00 AM, June 26

Networking Without the Eye Roll

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE; CEO of Next Connextion
April 2017

Networking seems to have become one of those catchphrases that makes it sound like an organization is projecting fluff and not substance (‘Networking is one of the ways we are producing a symbiotic value for our key stakeholders!”).  Yet, we know that across organizations, the ability to connect with colleagues and form new professional relationships continues to be one of the highest rated reasons why members affiliate with their association.  Networking seems to have become one of those catchphrases that makes it sound like an organization is projecting fluff and not substance, and not a by-product of participating in others events, are developing a base that has deeper loyalty to the organization.  Here are a few places to get started:

  1. Add it to the Agenda – Any meeting you are planning, review the agenda that you outline and ALWAYS designate a time for attendee meeting and connection. Then, share that explicitly with your attendees – don’t assume that just because you have put them in the room together, and given them time without a speaker that everyone realizes that is time to connect and not to check their email
  2. Based on Audience and Topical Relevance, Decide the TYPE of Networking – Is this a meet and greet where attendees are supposed to meet people they don’t know? Is this the chance to reconnect with colleagues they already know, and get to know them better? Is this a networking experience where you will provide a gamification or co-creation experience? Not all connection experience are for the same purpose – help define what a participant may experience when participating.
  3. Networking Goal Setting – “My goal in networking is to meet people.” Great – does that mean to walk away with 50 business cards? Have three meaningful conversations? Find colleagues that are willing to be part of a study group? Ask your attendees to articulate their goals in participating in the experience you are providing – and where appropriate, give suggestions (i.e. meet three people where you can share an article or piece of knowledge when you get back home to follow up on your conversation).
  4. Make Networking Time/Space the Beginning and Not the End – Is your networking time at the start of a meeting or program? Encourage new connections to set a time to sit together and follow up on their conversation later. Are you creating a networking experience where colleagues are discussing an industry insight or collaborating on a new project or solution? Suggest that they set a time for a virtual coffee when they are back home.
  5. No Time Like the Present to Connect – Do you still have a rolodex? One that you actually use? Our networks today are mainly built through social and community connections. Encourage attendees to connect with each other on LinkedIn and/or your private social community while they are in the room – rather than wait until they get home.

And a final bonus suggestion:

Program Opportunities and Not Rigidity – There is a fine line between creating better opportunities for people to meet and get to know each other and over-programming a time where they are forced into awkward interactions. Keep in mind who will be present – extroverts and introverts, organization veterans and newbies, etc.  In general, making it easier to get past the first 10-awkward-seconds of saying hello is a great place to start!

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE is the CEO of Next Connextion – a company working with associations on value-focused approaches to strategy development, membership and volunteer management. Lowell frequently presents to associations on evolving networking models and experiences and will facilitate CSAE’s closing General Session at the annual conference this June.