I Went to 10 Networking Events in a Month. Here's What I Learned.
A few months ago, I moved to Seattle knowing hardly anyone. I also started working full-time on my business, Supporti, which meant that I needed to find a community of people to help me navigate this new world of entrepreneurship.
As an ambivert (someone with both introvert and extrovert qualities) I knew I needed to start meeting people in order to feel connected and happy in my new city.
To be honest, I’m not naturally drawn to networking. Giving an elevator pitch to strangers isn’t exactly my idea of a fun way to spend my free time.
I set a goal for myself: Attend 10 networking events in a month. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many other networking events I've attended since. I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learned and offer my tips on how to network.
What exactly is networking?
Networking is the buzzword for meeting people, making connections, getting to know others and getting them to know you. If the term “networking” brings to mind schmoozing and business cards, well, that’s pretty accurate. I would argue however, that by defining your goals first, you can make meaningful connections that go beyond a handshake.
Why should you network?
Networking is a fantastic way to make professional and personal relationships. It’s unlikely that your next business partner or customers will come knocking at your door. Instead, you’ve got to put yourself out there and find people whom you can serve and who can help you.
You can also go to networking events to learn something new. Heck, you can even go for the free snacks if that’s your thing. In addition, it’s been a nice way to see different venues throughout the city and get a feel for the people who live and work here. My favorite location for an event was the Seattle Spheres, sphere-shaped (pentagonal hexecontahedrons if we're getting technical) conservatory/employee lounges on the Amazon campus.
How to network
For people who have never been to a networking event, or those who secretly dread them, here’s the process I used:
FINDING A GROUP OR EVENT
Define your goal for networking. Why are you doing this? Are you looking to build your network to find referrals, a new job, a co-founder, or people with similar interests?
Identify meaningful criteria. Decide if it makes more sense to network within an area you know or to get out of your comfort zone. Are you looking to find “your people” or are you looking to switch careers and grow your skill set?
Identify your preferences for the group or event. Is it ideally large or small? One-time or recurring? Exclusive or inclusive? Brand new or several years old?
Research groups and events online based on the goals and criteria above.
AT THE EVENT
Show up! You’ve got to put yourself out there. No flaking out!
Pro-tip 1: If you’re nervous about what to expect, talk to the community organizer ahead of time, telling them you’re thinking of coming but that you’re not sure what to expect. They’ll usually be the most welcoming and eager to introduce you to others and can answer any questions you have ahead of time.
Pro-tip 2: Find another newbie and befriend them. Newbies are easy to find. They're usually alone, looking around the room nervously.
Pro-tip 3: Bring a friend with you—a wingman or wingwoman, so to speak.
Connect with people.
Set a goal to connect with at least one new person. It’s great if you meet more, but pace yourself. Who will remember you more: the one person with whom you had an interesting 20-minute conversation, or the 20 people who spoke to you for one minute each?
After you introduce yourself confidently, here are some easy conversation starters:
What brings you here today? How’d you hear about it?
What other events like this have you gone to?
Are you from this area?
How’s the food? (if there’s food/drink)
Be super clear with your ask.
I learned this one the hard way. If you have a request (nothing wrong with that!), be extremely clear with what you need. I’ve had very well-meaning people send me on a wild goose chase trying to help me solve a problem I didn’t have, all because I was unclear in what I was looking for. Oops. Write down what you need and practice asking for it.
Wrap up in a classy way
Here’s my tip for how to end a conversation with someone: ask for their business card (or say, “Here, let me give you my card.”).
No business cards? No problem. Ask to connect with them right there via LinkedIn's app using their QR code feature or the Find Nearby tool. Usually this is body language for “goodbye,” but sometimes your companion will continue to want to chat.
Other ways to end the conversation:
Getting a drink/food, excusing yourself to use the restroom, or introducing the person to someone else and politely bowing out.
Pro-tip: Bring a pen and write down a few words on their business card to help you remember who they are for the next step.
Follow up. For anyone you’d like to stay in touch with, follow up within 24 hours. If you wait more than a week to connect on LinkedIn, they may forget who you were.
Bonus: Jot down a few notes about what you learned from the experience. Would you go back to the same organization? Did you have meaningful conversations? Are there areas where you could improve?
Congratulations! You did it! Repeat as often as you’d like. Set some networking goals for yourself.
What I learned
In what felt like a whirlwind month, I attended all types of meetups. The audience and settings varied greatly, including:
Eight people sitting around a table at a doughnut coffee shop
Hundreds of women in tech in a rainforest office building
Panels on product management and entrepreneurs at a coworking spaces
A UX conference with hundreds of attendees at a conference center
50 people crammed into a small upstairs bar
15 people at a bookstore that serves both alcohol and coffee
In a few weeks’ time, I made dozens of friends and professional connections. I’ve been surprised at how supportive people have been to give advice, help out, or just chat about their favorite hikes and coffee shops (quite common here in Seattle). I’ve started bringing my new friends to other networking events and connecting people to each other, which is pretty cool. I’m now more confident introducing myself to new people and talking about my business.
Would I set another goal of 10 events in a month again? Sure, although now I’m less focused on the exact number of events and instead doing what makes the most sense for how I spend my time. I now have a regular cadence of weekly meetups that I go to, and some monthly ones that I’ll try to attend when I can.
You never know who you might meet.
My biggest regret in the whole ordeal was that I didn’t start networking years ago because I was comfortable and a little nervous. At previous jobs, I felt so exhausted at the end of the work day that the idea of going out after work to meet new people seemed miserable. I now wonder how many wonderful people I never met because I raced home each night instead of making new acquaintances.
You never know who you might meet: your next employee, your next boss, your next gym buddy. So give networking a try!
I’ll leave you with the old saying, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.” Go out and meet some people.
Need someone to hold you accountable to your networking goals? Sign up for Supporti.