So tomorrow I am going to a meeting of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association. It’s an informal event that will have a discussion on The Impact of Social Media. I’ve been to one other event with this group and it made me take some time to think about networking events and how they work.
It’s true that there’s no substitute for face to face discussion, but the problem is getting to the right faces. Both at a live or online event you at least know that the attendees have something in common (in my case, Marketing in Boston). One of the major advantages to networking online is that you can learn a lot about a person before you take up their valuable time. It also gets around the first 5 minutes of awkward conversation, and filters out things like spouses that have no interest in being there, or people who just show up for the free food.
I’ve found 4 levels of people at live events:
- Weird Loners – They don’t know anybody and are hanging out trying to meet people. To the other 3 groups this are high risk contacts, they may latch on, be insane, and not let go.
- Possible Stalker – These are loners who have done some homework and have a list of people to talk to. They’ll do 100x better than the loners, but the other attendees may have a look of panic during initial conversations as they assess the threat level.
- The Connected – Know enough people to have a pleasant time, try and meet a few new people, catch up with old friends.
- Group Organizer – Has all the cards, knows the majority of the people and why they were invited.
So what does this mean?
- Fly with a wingman – if you are going into unfamiliar territory having just one familiar face in the crowd, by definition, excludes you from being a weird loner.
- If that’s not possible, at least be a stalker – have 3 people you want to meet and learn enough about them so you have a starting point for conversation – “Hey, I noticed you blogged about X, could you tell me more…”
- Crack the code – Figure out who runs the event, who sponsors the event, why and how were people added to the list. This will help you determine who the power players are, if you can find one real connector, then you never have to go to a mass event again, you just ask the connector for some help in pointing you in the right direction.
Just like in any Jungle or Poker Game, if you have no plan everyone else is planning on you to be the meal.
And of course bribery. I’ll be giving out some $5 coffee cards, I have yet to find anyone that can resist free stuff…