I requested the first session of the conference, not because I am an early bird but because I want to get you all in the right state of mind for the conference and the networking opportunities available here.
If you hate networking or think you should just come for the educational opportunities (in other words, what you can learn from sitting here passively listening to the speakers), then you could really be missing out!
I do want you to walk away from this session having learned new things, but I really hope you practice and use the ideas today and tomorrow as well as in the future.
I’d just like to start the presentation with who I am and why I’m here.
I’ve been in technical and medical communication for over 20 years. Currently, I’m a Technical Writer in the Chief Information Security Office at a financial services firm, where I write policies, processes, and procedures to meet regulatory requirements. I also have freelance clients from my previous position as a medical editor, which takes up a bit of my time outside of my day job. And I’m passionate about checklists, which is another topic I often speak and write about.
I’m active in STC, AMWA, Toastmasters, and BELS. I like to speak at conferences to share my knowledge. I like to network with other communicators. So please reach out to me with questions or comments.
This is a topic I am passionate about…probably because I was so bad at it when I started my professional career. I created a similar presentation for the company where I used to work. They had fellows, and they wanted someone to help them get ready to go to a couple of conferences. The fellows would need to network to find jobs and navigate their careers and they would need to help not-yet-fellows they would meet take the next steps in their careers (including possibly taking their places as fellows). So, there were two fellows, and their mentors were concerned that they were very shy. So I presented a similar deck to them, then the next year, I presented a similar deck for the next couple of fellows. A year or so after that, I was the AMWA Annual Conference Chair, and I created another deck with some of the same information and message, added audio to it, then posted it on the website for attendees to watch before the conference.
When I saw the theme for this year’s Interchange conference, it seemed a good fit for what I propose in this presentation. I have updated it, added a bit more to it, and made it more interactive and pertinent to you.
Our focus today is broken into three periods in the process…before, during, and after the event.
But before we get too far, let’s discuss one thing that I think is important. I want you to think about networking the same way you think about your job.
Who here enjoys what they do for a living? Most of us, right? Otherwise, why continue to do it, right? Now who here ALWAYS enjoys their job? Not every hour of every day, right? Sometimes you have a tough topic or an uncooperative SME, maybe you don’t have all of the information you need and you’re a little uncomfortable or anxious. That’s normal, right? Despite that, you stick around because things are good, you like what you do, it’s better than the alternative. And you do what you can to make some of these tough parts better, with preparation, research, some hard work…because ultimately, the benefits are there.
That’s how you need to think about networking…there will be good networking moments, when you connect with someone and you have a laugh and you’re glad you came. And there will be awkward moments when there is not a fit or you feel uncomfortable, but I am going to encourage you to network anyways because you know that getting to know other people in your industry or profession or your workplace is good for you and your career. That’s all networking is….getting to know other people, creating community, creating a network, because you’re human and need it, because you’re a professional and you career needs it.
From dictionary.com: a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest
Would you all agree that’s what we are doing here?
So Why Network? According to the organization Network After Work, in a survey they did, people overwhelmingly prefer face-to-face meetings because they like being able to read facial expressions, they think it allows greater social interaction, and they think they build strong relationships with others.
I have to agree on all points, even being an introvert who can struggle with small talk. But I do have some strategies that I use to help me make the most of conferences and other networking opportunities, so I am going to share them with you here.
Before we get too far into this, I have two myths I would like to dispel. Here is the first….
That’s just not true. Most people hate networking.
This is the second myth I would like to dispel….
There are humans that are magically charismatic and get along well with everyone. Everyone else works at it…
And once you work at something, you become better at it, and once you become better at it, you enjoy it. That’s simple human nature.
So let’s get into the meat of the presentation….
Let’s tackle the BEFORE…with three things to do before you go to a networking event…
#1 Choose the right networking event Am I suggesting you go to any networking event? A Chamber of Commerce meeting? A Network after Work meetup? Not at this stage. If you are not comfortable with networking, then those are not the places to start. Your best bet is events like this, with like-minded folks where you already have things in common. Check Meetup.com, similar organizations like STC, AMWA, BELS, ATD, IIBA, IABC. Organizations and events that cater to writing, editing, training, UX, and the like.
#2 There are many different parts of a networking event to research – the bigger the event, the more research you can do.
Start with the communications from the event. Make sure you sign up for any meals and networking events at a conference, so you can go along with the crowd when it’s time to eat or do the next activity. You don’t want to be the one who has no one to eat with because everyone went to the planned meal. Meals area great time to get to know people because you really only have to talk to the person next to you on either side.
Then go to social media. Are people posting about the event? What’s being said? Who is attending? Who is speaking? What are the topics? Get involved in the conversation, so you can go to the events with “friends” and things to talk about.
In other words, don’t just wing it!
Being engaged and knowing what’s going on makes it easier to formulate your goals for the event. Who do you want to meet? Are there topics you want to learn more about? Do you have questions for specific speakers or about certain topics? What do you want to accomplish at the networking event?
Put that out there, and you might be able to get others to help you reach your goal.
If you don’t have them already, order some business cards. This will help when it’s time to exchange cards with people. It’s awkward when someone asks for your card and you don’t have one. It’s also awkward to ask someone for their card if you don’t have one.
Some people like to go with specific goals, like I will meet 5 people or stay for 1 hour. If that works for you, then do it!
Time for an exercise: Practice with a partner, preferably someone you do not know. I want each of you to ask the other why they are at the conference, and then practice your answer to the question. Just to make things easier, I’d like the person on the right to start by asking a question…something along the lines of what do they hope to get out of the conference, why did they come, whatever you feel comfortable saying, using your own words.
#3 So, I’m differentiating research as what you do before you sign up for an event or right after you have signed up, but it can be done way in advance.
Preparation includes thing you do in the couple of days before you attend.
We’ll start with what’s on the inside…
Let’s rehearse a bit, so we have something in our brains when we meet someone. If you’re anything like me, you might blank out with fright. This is less likely to happen if you have thought about what you might talk about before you get there.
Ideas include: small talk about the conference, what you are hoping to get out of the conference, things you’d like to learn, people you’d like to meet, some of the things your learned in your research, what you are looking forward to in the event. Work these into answers and questions.
Along the same lines of practicing questions and small talk, practice some of your answers to common questions. Are you looking for a job or consulting work? Practice your elevator speech, specific to your goals and the audience. Write it out. Practice it a bit. Think of your audience, which may be different with different networking events.
From: https://www.girlboss.com/work/how-to-answer-what-do-you-do-when-networking Lead with passion Talk about what you do that you love at your job, leaving out the title and company. Talk about all your gigs Feel free to talk about all of your gigs…do you have a full time job to pay the bills, but a side gig doing something you love? Say something like, well, in my day job, I am a technical writer, and I work for so-and-so, but my freelance work is in developing websites and I love to create the perfect site for small businesses. Mention your skills Lead with your skills and how you use them at work. In all three of these, the point is to be more interesting, by showing what you’re excited about. So share what you’re excited about. Stay positive You can let people know you are looking for something or somewhere else without badmouthing your current company.
Time for another exercise: Practice with a partner, preferably someone you do not know. I want each of you to ask the other what do you do or where do you work or something similar. And then practice your answer to the question. Let’s have the person on the left ask the first question this time…
Let’s talk about the outside.
Looking good is not for others; it’s for you!1 You want to be comfortable, but not too comfortable. Business casual comfortable, not sweat pants on the couch casual. Also, you won’t be happy if your feet hurt.
Be yourself, but your best version of yourself.
Wear a “conversation piece” tie, scarf, or jewelry. It gives people something to talk about.
Now the day has come….How can you make the most of your time as you arrive and while you are there?
Don’t add to your stress by being late for the event. Getting there early has its advantages. The groups are smaller and easier to break into. There aren’t as many people.
I like to know the following: Where’s the restroom? Is there food or drink? Are there tables or booths to visit?
Then once you’re acclimated, look for the following: Do I see anyone I know? Save the hellos with a familiar face for later. But make a mental note of who else you know.
Do I see anyone looking lost and lonely in a corner? Talk to someone who is alone. If there is not anyone alone, then great, find your people. Don’t go up to a big boisterous crowd, look for a quiet group or even just a smaller group and just say Hi. That’s all you need to start with….Hi, my name is ….
I know this sounds like the worst thing ever, but I have some good options for you….
“Hi, I’m so-and-so.” “I really like your…” “Where are you from?” “Mind if I join?” “What do you enjoy the most about your line of work?” “How did you get into the industry?” “Who was your favorite speaker?” “Who is someone at this event that you’d love to speak to?” “What trends do you see happening in this industry in the future?” “What is your view on (an event in the news)?”
These are some good ones….
Then just ask questions and try to get to know someone or a couple of people…
Pay attention and respond to their discussion.
And have some thoughts of your own. Be prepared to say something about whatever you ask them about….some thoughts on the keynote, what you like about the conference so far.
Balance your questions with answers…no one wants to go through the Spanish Inquisition. Conversations should be a give and take, you talk and they talk. It should never be one-sided.
And even though it’s nice to find someone who has an answer to a question that has vexed you, think about how you can help others.
Some tips: Repeat their names in your mind and in your conversation with them. Introduce them to others, inserting relevant details to show you’re paying attention.
This gives you something to focus on besides I hate networking
This also helps with the After…Follow up.
This is where it helps to have business cards. Oh ,and by the way, I don't care if your company provides business cards. This is your network and your career, buy some from VistaPrint or if you want to get fancy, moo.com, and use them for your own purposes.
This also helps with the After…Follow up.
If you need a break later, step aside and write note on the cards about what you want to follow up on or little details to help you remember someone.
I do this all of the time. If you’re not comfortable acting the host, then next time consider being the host. Then it’s your job to meet people, introduce them to others, and make them comfortable. You wouldn't shirk your job duties, would you?
I have a perfect story to illustrate this. I do this often, but I’m never quite sure if people appreciate it. I went to a conference I have never been to before, and there was some open time before the next event, and there were people all around sitting on couches, standing together talking, and there was one woman with a glass of wine sitting alone at the end of the couch, not talking to anyone. I went up to her and started talking to her. After we had been talking, she said two things that surprised me. (1) That she has been to the conference before, so realistically, she should have been more comfortable there than I was, and (2) she thanked me for walking up to her and talking to her. She said she is sociable at work, but here, she kind of freezes. And there are many people like that, who are paralyzed walking into a new place or space. You could be a hero to that person!
Start with your similarities, you are at the conference because you are probably STC members and interested in technical communication. The conversation may fall apart after that, but you do have somewhere to start.
Look for similarities but appreciate differences; there are lots of opportunities to ask questions when you have differences…different backgrounds, different jobs.
Ask people what they like to do outside of work. You may find you have some of the same hobbies or interests or they might do something you have never heard of. Technical communicators are an eclectic bunch.
And when you’ve made the most of the event and feel your energy draining, leave. You don’t have to be there from beginning to end. You don’t need to meet every person or work the room. Try to meet your goals, but if you have met some people, made some connections, gathered and given a couple of business cards, then your work is done.
Two essential parts of the networking cycle that people often forget, probably because they are so relieved the event is over. But this is actually the other part of the process that we should be better at…we are constantly following up on projects at work, we are good with communicating with others via email, so what’s the problem? If someone doesn’t respond back, who cares? And if someone does, then you keep in touch with them and make them a part of your network.
Why would you go through all of the trouble and stress of going to a networking event and not reap the benefits?
How do you follow up? How many of you are on LinkedIn? The easiest way to stay in touch with your professional acquaintances and friends is on LinkedIn. if you’re on LinkedIn, and the other person is on LinkedIn, this is a simple way to get and stay connected. Send a nice note with some pertinent details about your conversation and ask to connect.
If you or they are not on LinkedIn, then send them an email with a nice note and some pertinent details about the conversation.
You probably already know this from your life…it’s easy to talk to people you’ve been in touch with than those you have lost contact with and that you suddenly need something from.
Being active on LinkedIn makes staying in touch much easier and contacting people later much easier.
So does anyone have any questions in the last couple of minutes we have?
Does anyone want to tell the group what they will be taking away from the session? What stood out to you?
Thanks for coming! Be sure to connect with me or take one of my business cards or leave your own. I’ll post the slides to SlideShare tonight.
I do have some additional resources…I will post my slides on SlideShare tonight, so you can download there. Or take my card and email me later for them, or leave your card, and I will email you with them.
I also have a thumb drive, and you can download my deck from it in between the sessions. I actually have another document on the thumb drive; I exported the bookmarks I saved while researching this topic, and I hastily pasted them into a Word doc, if anyone is interested in that.
I’ve included this slide, not so much because I think people have all of these issues, but for some of the links. Though they are beginning with a negative in the article I took them from….each of the linked articles is a positive article on how you can improve on these things. I would recommend the one about remembering people’s names and how to start a conversation.
Does anyone see some familiar traits? Particularly in others they might have met?
These resources are in the Notes of the PowerPoint
Engineering your Networking Experiences
Other people like networking1
and I’m weird for not liking it.
Most people hate it.
Introverts make up half the
population and dread networking
Other people are magically good at
networking1 and there is something
wrong with me because I am not good
Most people have to work at it to look
like they are good at it. This is
something you can learn to do and
Exchange business cards with people
that you’d like to stay in contact with
From Susan Cain, Author of Quiet: The Power of
Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and
cofounder of Quiet Revolution.
“I recently came across some of the best networking
advice I’ve ever heard: to imagine yourself in the role of
the host, rather than the nervous party guest. It’s the
host’s job to make everyone feel comfortable. When
you’re focused on another person’s comfort, you tend
to forget about your own lack of comfort. You become
Also from Susan Cain
What can introverts bring to, or get out of,
networking events that extroverts may not?
“Many introverts love to connect deeply.
They may not meet as many people at a
given event, but they’ll often come away
with a smaller number of authentic and
If you don’t do this, you’ve wasted
your time at the networking
KEEP IN TOUCH
This is where you really reap the
benefits of networking events.
• Forget about your discomfort
– focus on others.
• Make real connections; have
deeper conversations with
people once you find
• Don’t meet everyone or try
• Do the necessary research
and preparation BEFORE the
• DURING the event, try to
focus on others and “act the
• AFTER the event, follow up
and stay in contact with new
Anyone can learn to network. It isn’t rocket science. If you’re terrible at
networking, maybe you’re making a few of these mistakes. Maybe you…
• Ask for favors before you give them.
• Always talk about yourself.
• Make the situation awkward.
• Need to improve your handshake.
• Have nothing to talk about.
• Don’t remember people’s names.
• Have a foul mouth.
• Speak poorly about other people.
• Don’t know how to start a conversation.
• Don’t talk to new people.
• Never follow up.
• Don’t let the other person talk.
• Are not very interesting.