There are a lot of common misconceptions and varying opinions about the value of networking events. Some people love them while most people hate then. Some people think going to events is the only way to network and meet new people while others prefer other channels. It all depends on your needs and personality.
For those thinking of attending networking events, here is some advice on getting started, along with other ways you can meet great people.
You should go when first starting out.
Particularly if you are entering a new industry, you will need to build up a base of relationships.
When I wanted to get into startups, I hardly knew anyone in the industry -- or even anyone who know anyone in the industry. I couldn’t just ask my friends or family to introduce me to startups. Events allowed me to me to meet people in the industry that I couldn’t have reached through referrals.
Networking events provide you with the opportunity to meet lots of people in a short amount of time. After you build a small base network, you can start getting referrals from them, which is probably the best way to meet new people.
Networking events are great practice.
In addition to providing some initial relationships, these events provide beginning networkers with an outstanding opportunity to improve networking skills. While you can read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People , the best way to get better at meeting people is to meet lots of people.
With enough practice, situations that previously felt uncomfortable will become comfortable as you gain “remembered experiences.” Once you’ve improved your skills, you will be more capable of meeting the high value people you want to meet, and you will be more effective at communicating and relationship building once you do.
Meeting just one good person is a good outcome.
People often complain that going to events is not an effective use of time because you don’t meet enough good people. It is true that most events will be attended be a lot of people that you don’t actually want to meet, and that it’s likely you will not meet anyone that you want to stay in touch with after you leave. I believe that if you meet just one good person for every three to five events you go to, that is actually a really great return on investment. The value of one great relationship can vastly exceed the wasted time of the other events combined. Instead of trying to meet 50 people that you never talk to again, try to meet just one person that will become a lifelong relationship.
They're not all bad -- if you choose wisely.
When most people think networking events, they think of salespeople and job seekers exchanging business cards and selling themselves. It’s generally true: Events created solely for the purpose of business networking, with no focus on a particular type of person or industry, tend to be dry and less productive.
So instead of attending events that aren’t for you, go to events around your interests and passions. Even events outside of work -- such as intramural sports or book clubs -- can be great networking opportunities. You never know who else could be there, and because you have shared interests, the relationship-building process will be a lot more fluid. The “networking events” where I met the best people when I first started networking were not actually networking events. They were classes, lectures and workshops. Networking is not the end all be all.
Networking events sometimes get a bad rap by people who say you usually don’t meet anyone worth meeting. Those accusations are not completely unfounded. It’s true, networking events are usually attended by lots of people you don’t want to meet.
There are better ways to meet good people, such as getting introductions through your existing network, blogging, and cold emailing. In addition, networking events are often boring.