For most of us, the first mention of a ‘networking event’ sends a cold chill down our spine. I know I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of time at networking events skulking around the edges of the room and hiding in the loo!
Having just dropped Cora off at her first day of primary school, it struck me that perhaps networking events take us back to those nerve-wracking first days of school where we don’t know anyone. Whatever it is, for many of us, it’s simply excruciating and often to be avoided at all costs!
So, here are my top tips for making your next networking event (the upcoming Leaders Connect event, perhaps?) a more enjoyable experience.
First off, why do we even need to attend networking events?
Attending networking events is highly beneficial for you and your organisation as it provides opportunities to connect with peers, learn from others, and build valuable connections. Here are ten benefits of attending networking events in the non-profit sector:
1 – Knowledge Sharing – Networking events provide a platform to exchange ideas, best practices, and strategies with fellow non-profit leaders, allowing you to learn from their experiences.
2 – Collaboration Opportunities – Meeting other non-profit leaders can lead to potential collaborations and partnerships, enabling your organisation to pool resources and work together on common goals.
3 – Resource Sharing – Networking events often bring together individuals with access to various resources, such as funding, volunteers, or expertise, which can benefit your organisation.
4 – Peer Support – Building a network of peers who understand the unique challenges of the non-profit sector can provide emotional support and a sense of community.
5 – Inspiration and Motivation – Hearing success stories and meeting passionate individuals can inspire and motivate you to tackle challenges with renewed energy and creativity.
6 – Access to Funding – Networking can lead to connections with potential donors, grantmakers, or sponsors who may be interested in supporting your organisation’s mission.
7 – Professional Development – You can gain insights into leadership and management skills by interacting with successful non-profit leaders and attending workshops or seminars at networking events.
8 – Visibility and Advocacy – Networking allows you to raise awareness about your organisation’s mission and advocate for your cause among a broader audience.
9 – Recruitment – Finding dedicated volunteers, board members, or employees who share your passion for the cause becomes easier when you network with like-minded individuals.
10 – Problem-Solving – Networking events provide opportunities to discuss common challenges and brainstorm solutions with others who may have faced similar issues in the non-profit sector.
By attending networking events you will enhance your knowledge, expand your professional network, and open doors to collaboration, funding, and support, ultimately helping your organisation achieve its mission more effectively.
So, that’s why networking is important and beneficial.
But, how can we make it more enjoyable?
Well, like anything, it will be more enjoyable when you approach it with a positive mindset and utilise strategies that align with your personality and preferences. Here are some tips to make networking more enjoyable:
1 – Set Realistic Goals: Instead of focusing solely on collecting business cards or making as many connections as possible, set specific, achievable goals for each networking event. For example, aim to have one meaningful conversation or learn something new.
2 – Find Common Interests: Look for shared interests, hobbies, or passions with the people you meet. Conversations flow more naturally when you’re discussing topics you both enjoy.
3 – Be a Good Listener: Instead of worrying about what to say about yourself and your organisation, actively listen to what others have to say. Show genuine interest in their stories and experiences.
4 – Practice Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re talking to. Understand their perspective and concerns. Empathy can help build stronger connections.
5 – Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage deeper conversations by asking open-ended questions that invite thoughtful responses. For example, “What inspired you to get involved in the non-profit sector?”.
6 – Diversify Your Events: Attend a variety of networking events, including those related to your field and others outside of it. Exploring different environments and meeting people from diverse backgrounds can make networking more interesting.
7 – Bring a Friend: If you’re uncomfortable attending events alone, consider bringing a friend or colleague. Having a familiar face can ease anxiety and make the experience more enjoyable.
8 – Follow-up: After the event, take the initiative to follow up with the people you’ve met. Send a friendly email or connect on social media to continue the conversation and build the relationship.
9 – Volunteer or Participate: Consider volunteering at or actively participating in networking events. This can give you a sense of purpose and make the experience more fulfilling.
10 – Focus on Quality, Not Quantity: It’s not about collecting a large number of contacts but about forming meaningful, genuine connections. Quality relationships are more satisfying in the long run.
11 – Practice Self-Care: Take care of yourself before and after networking events. Get enough rest, eat well, and engage in activities that help you relax and recharge.
12 – Be Authentic: Be yourself and let your personality shine through. Authenticity often leads to more genuine connections.
13 – Give Back: Offer your help or expertise to others in your network without expecting immediate returns. Being a resource to others can be personally fulfilling.
14 – Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate the small victories in your networking journey. Each meaningful connection you make is a step in the right direction.
Remember that networking is a skill that can be improved with practice. Over time, you’ll likely find your own enjoyable approach to networking that aligns with your personality and objectives.
Recently I attended a networking event for coaches in Bristol and was a bit taken aback at how nervous I felt beforehand. I think the pandemic has made my networking skills a bit rusty and I felt out of practice. It reminded me that networking is a bit like learning a new language, or any new skill, we must practice and not leave too big a gap before doing it again.
So, what are you going to sign up to? Get your next networking event in the diary and enjoy!