Networking Opportunities That Add Members To Your Extended Support Team

September 12, 2012

As we go about our daily activities we meet and engage with many people.

Occasionally, in conversation with a stranger, we realize that we and that person share many common interests. In cases like this, the temptation is to become totally engrossed in conversation with the friendly stranger excluding every one else. If there are no uninterested companions, there is no problem in yielding to temptation.

If, however, there are disinterested companions present, as at a social event, a better approach would be to exchange business cards and agree to chat or meet later.

It is a good idea to send a follow-up as soon as you can. This will help remind the friendly stranger of who you are and the circumstances under which you met.

Designated Networking Sessions

All business organizations and associations provide opportunities for members to interact with each other and discuss their respective businesses. As a result, they simplify the task of identifying people who can probably help.

Opportunities could arise spontaneously, like unplanned contact with friendly strangers discussed above. Like unplanned contacts with strangers, networking begins when two members of the same organization discover that they have common interests.

However, unlike the situation with at a social or non-business event, it is acceptable, even expected that you pursue areas of mutual interest with people whom you meet spontaneously at a business event.

Other situations in which like-minded people can interact with each other arise in planned activities called “networking sessions.” Normally, these sessions are separate components of regular meetings. After a preliminary activity such as a meal or speaker, the networking session begins.

Networking sessions might also be an element of another function such as a conference or seminar.

In format, these events can range all the way from totally unstructured gatherings to highly structured and very tightly controlled activities.

Unstructured Format

In an unstructured format, the chair of the meeting announces something like “It is now time for networking” and advises or instructs the participants “to network with each other.” With little, if any, further instructions, the participants are left on their own to introduce themselves to each other and discuss their respective businesses.

Unstructured gatherings are ideal for very focused and self-directed individuals. With little effort, they can connect with like-minded people and discuss mutual concerns.

Unfortunately, the same unstructured gatherings can be disastrous for less focused and self-directed people. They are more likely to be spectators at the event, watching others interact. At the end of the event, they are often left unsatisfied, still looking to meet some one who can help.

Structured Format

In a more structured format, everyone is expected to follow the instructions of the leader or facilitator.

Typically, the leader divides the large group into smaller groups either with or without specific criteria. These criteria could be business-related such as type, size, age or geographic location of business or non-business or random such as color of name tag or participants’ birthdays. The leader then gives the small groups a task to perform or a topic to discuss.

Although the small group has a specific task, its real purpose is to allow members to get to know each other, facilitating a discussion of their businesses. Ideally, this process will lead to point that individual participants can identify how they can help each other.

Structured gatherings are good for people who are more reserved in meeting others and less assertive when seeking help.

By following instructions and answering specific questions they can probably open up and discuss their businesses more easily and effectively than might otherwise be the case. Very focused and self-directed individuals are often frustrated by structured gatherings.  Instead of moving in their own direction at their own pace, they must go with the flow, patiently waiting for everyone to participate.

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