Networking means much more than just setting up meetings or attending networking events. Networking is about meeting AND relating with people. Simply introducing yourself and exchanging contact information challenges the very premise successful networking is based upon.
This past week I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2009 Illinois Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Chicago. Similar to other conferences that happen all over the country for various organizations, disciplines and locales, this conference involved a trade show, numerous sessions and evening events.
This opportunity came about because of an informational interview I had with a local communications director who mentioned I might want to attend. After looking at the Web site and contact information for the project manager, I e-mailed her, explained my situation and offered any help that might be available. She was excited to have more volunteers and I was glad to help. During the initial precon meeting, she offered to introduce any of the volunteers to anyone we might be interested in meeting, as well as opened the events to the volunteers.
Volunteer like it’s your job—I was surprised at what transpired over the next few days. What originally began as simply “registration volunteers” quickly morphed into a team of react and response wayfinders and problem solvers (something I have much experience in). Because of this, networking became more natural. People were coming to us to find out information and therefore opening the door to introductions and discussions. I met people from around the state from various disciplines, learned about their organization and made new contacts and friends. Although some of my peers were more into “hardcore networking”, I found that being relaxed and doing what I was there to do (assist the conference) provided me a much more natural opportunity to meet people than searching out those opportunities. Neither is a bad choice, I just took a different approach. This allowed me to mix my “job” for the weekend with my personal experiences and then my desire to meet and network with those in my industry. I showed my leadership and commitment to the organization first before my self interests. Be willing to do that. Be the yes person and let the other opportunities flow.
How to volunteer
* Look on convention and visitors’ bureau Web sites and see what events are happening in your city.
* Visit the Web sites for those events. If one interests you, find the registration contact or event director/manager.
* E-mail the person describing your interest to “help in any way” with the conference. Explain your experience and your interest in helping. The manager should be able to read between the lines about your desire to either learn more about that organization or network. No need to blatantly describe that.
* Clear your schedule and say YES to whatever is asked of you. Go with the flow and be positive!