Conferences and “events” can be a big time commitment, and sometimes the crowds are sub-par. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot of value in going to big events. Especially if you’re building up a new network in a new industry.
Many people complain that they only meet a couple good people at events. My counter-argument is that that’s actually a great return. If you meet even one person at an event that turns into a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship, that drastically exceeds the cost of attending one or more events
However, now that I’ve built up a solid base network, I do most of my “networking” by asking for introductions. I’m now very intentional about who specifically I want to be meeting. I find them on LinkedIn and if we have any shared connections, I ask for an introduction. Otherwise I try to interact with them online, usually via Twitter or commenting on their blog, before reaching out directly. I also get a lot of recommendations about who I should meet (and introductions) from people I know.
The next biggest way I meet new people is from cold outreach. I don’t get anywhere near a 100% response rate, but I’ve been really surprised by how many new connections I’ve been able to make through cold emails. I think having a solid online presence (Twitter, blog that let’s people get to know me, etc) helps me get a higher response rate.
I really like private events and happy hours. I can be confident the crowd will be good. I try to organize them myself sometimes too. It allows me to introduce people to each other informally and to hang out with people I already know in a relaxed setting. I usually tell people they can bring people too, which allows me to meet some new people as well.
Niche events and groups around stuff you’re passionate can also be great. Even if it’s not a professional interest, it can still be a great way to “network.” I’ve found that good people know other good people, so I try to spend time with people I like rather, than just people in certain industries or with certain job titles. In addition, by engaging with people around a shared interest, you can get to know each other much better.
Conclusion: Conferences and networking events can be really valuable. You never know who you’ll meet, and meeting just one great person makes it all worthwhile. If you’re building a network in a new industry, they are a great way to get started building a new network. After building up enough contacts and a good reputation, asking for introductions to specific people is probably the best way to go. Cold outreach and private events can also be productive.
To learn more about building a professional network, check out my book.