Why Activity-Based Networking Beats Mingling

Most of the visible networking happens at networking events and in one-to-one meetings organized with connection building in mind. This approach works for many people but for others – especially introverts – it is often an unpleasant experience. Much worse, it isn’t always the best way to network.

A one-to-one meeting, perhaps at lunch, offers enough time and focus to be effective, but it requires an investment in time. Because of this even the most determined networkers can only do so many lunches each month. I try to schedule one per week, but don’t always succeed -- one a month would be a good average.
But there is another approach to networking that is more effective than a conventional mingle yet more scaleable that a lunch – activity-based networking.

Activity-based networking is the name I give to all of the activities where networking is a useful side effect but not the primary goal. In this approach you find some opportunities to work with other people so that they can see how you work, gauge your dependability, observe your character and learn what you do well.

What makes activity-based networking so appealing is that the networking is a side effect, so people uncomfortable with mingles feel more at home. It’s also effective because people are not forced to judge you based on an elevator pitch – they can see what you do and how well you do it. And it scales well because you can be simultaneously getting to know many people at once – and they are getting to know you.

What kind of activity should it be? It shouldn't be paintball, karting or Elk hunting. These might be good for making friends but they don't let other people see you in some sort of work related context where they can observe how you work. So the ideal activity is one where you are doing something with other people that showcases work skills and keeps you in contact long enough to get to know the other people.

You can do this by volunteering in a professional organization, in some sort of project team or in some special cases where projects are created regularly. One very effective framework is the Startup Weekend program, where people meet for 54 hours to brainstorm, and develop ideas for startups. There are startup weekend groups all over the planet and all follow the same scheme. People meet on Friday evening and present ideas for startups. They then form teams and each team spends the weekend developing their idea. Finally on Sunday evening each team makes their pitch and the winners are chosen. 

Some people do this because they want to create a startup and they sometimes succeed. Other people participate more because it is fun, some as a learning experience and some because it is an ideal way to grow connections in the startup community. Everyone who attends makes useful new connections and builds a visible reputation in the community. Someone who has been a useful team member at Startup Weekend is more likely to be chosen by a founder than someone who has just sent in a CV. People who have impressed their team mates are also more likely to be recommended for jobs.

But in all networking opportunities every situation is different and you need to try different activities in your area to see which is most effective. What works in Paris might not work so well in Oslo and vice versa. Ask around in your area to see which activities might be the most interesting. Try a few yourself, too, because an activity that looks very interesting could turn out to be a dead end and vice-versa.

2017 Edition of Payforward Networking.  There's more about this and other networking techniques in the 2017 edition of Payforward Networking, available in both paperback and Kindle editions. You can get it from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Payforward-Networking-Andrew-Hennigan/dp/1542919770

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If you would like to have Andrew Hennigan do lectures or workshops about professional networking for your organization get in touch on 0046 730 894 475 or email speaker@andrewhennigan.com


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