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February 16, 2020

Traditional networking events are an investment and we all expect some form of a valuable return on that investment. The likelihood of that is, just that, all up to luck. Considering most are bland purpose built gatherings of people with a generalised lack of desire for real connection, attending alternative networking events is a no brainer.

Kathryn Minshew said, ‘Networking doesn’t have to be all about talking shop over appetizers and bad chardonnay — do it in a way that works for you.

Weave networking into the spaces you already occupy and make the time and effort go further with clear intention and genuine interest in the activities you choose to participate in. The business owners of tomorrow are known for having a short attention span and high expectations which is why the most valued contacts largely avoid traditional networking. Here are some valuable alternatives:

  1. Hybrid Activities 

The most effective strategy for adding value to your networking efforts is to create ‘hybrid events’. Most highly-productive professionals love the opportunity to ‘batch’ activities or ‘kill two birds with one stone’ for maximum productivity impact and this is the basis of ‘hybrid activities’. The key is to now apply this technique to your networking strategy within your everyday life.

You can either choose to combine the two events yourself, and as you’ll see below most alternatives are an example of this, or you can find events that do this for you.

One of my favourite examples of a ready made ‘hybrid activity’ is professional speed date networking! I’ve spotted a few customisations of this being hosted in London like: black professionals speed dating night or traffic light singles night for entrepreneurs (where a colour of the traffic light is worn to state your relationship status). 

People love it, kill two birds with one stone! The idea is obviously to find those events that can double as progress towards two goals at once. The ROI on an event like that is better than any traditional networking event because the value of the content is much more personalised.

2. Athletic clubs

Athletic clubs are a great place to create hybrid activity and start a conversation with someone about shared goals in a regularly scheduled environment. An athletic membership can also form a bond between a group of people who keep each other accountable towards a positive goal.

It’s difficult to maintain motivation alone, the people around you are usually the reason we stick with something tough because if we all have similar values we don’t want to let the group down. This is a valuable way to connect and network because you are improving your mind, mody AND business in just ONE invested time block of commitment. Some examples of great athletic clubs to join:

  • Yoga, meditation, pilates, running/walking and hiking

3. Parties!

Parties are another opportunity to create hybrid activity but specifically for business if you aren’t already invited to a party, Launch parties are a great way to meet new people. These parties are full of budding entrepreneurs, high educated professionals and people of a calibre that you not only want but NEED in your inner circle. A Launch party is when someone is introducing the world to their new venture; things like a book, restaurant or magazine. Basically a way to say hi world I’m here, lets celebrate. And they’re largely free events, why not reach out to someone launching something in your industry and attend their event? You might even end up featured in their new magazine.

Now for the parties we’re bound to be invited to like summer and Christmas parties. Usually you’d be invited by a friend or one will be held by the company you work for but they’re also a great excuse to attend a party of an organisation that you’ve been wanting to join. I attended a summer drinks party held by a commercial real estate company open to recruits and clients and met some interesting people that gave me invaluable insights into the industry. 

If you are trying to climb the corporate ladder and your company holds an annual Christmas party, as many do, the rule of successful networking states, YOU MUST ATTEND. Chances are this will be your only opportunity in the year to have an informal connection with senior leaders, colleagues and support staff, all of whom you NEED to like you. If you aren’t attending, you’d better have a damn good reason as the company is likely to see those who make the effort as, more reliable and integral members of the team. If your company doesn’t have a Christmas party like mine didn’t, try to throw your own. It’s important to bring people together for a moment of reflection and celebration and it was a great way to raise my internal profile. 

4. Community / Volunteering events

Does your community have events or charity fundraisers that you would feel passionate about supporting? Alternatively a local chamber or small business bureau would be a great way to gain support from a diverse group of locals in your community. These organisations are probably more suited to those who are already established in their product or service business, and if this you, you will have a more invested stake in the connections you want to leverage to suit your industry. For those just starting out, choosing something you’re passionate about, like crafting, local charity, or even photography. Find that community for yourself. Even if it’s completely unrelated to your industry, your soul needs to express itself at some point!.. And while you’re doing that with intention, you never know who you’re going to meet. 

5. Courses/Workshops:

Another opportunity to create hybrid activity as they are either self funded for personal development or sponsored by your organisation for professional growth. Either way they’re a great way to see people in an unnatural environment, especially for internal networking, these company sponsored training events are a great way to connect with colleagues on a deeper level. The purpose of these events is to focus on one’s self and the challenges you will overcome within a particular field of interest. Those outcomes are especially important if you are funding your own learning, but while you’re investing the effort, there is also a lot of valuable networking to be gained amongst a coalition of like minded professionals proactive in their personal growth. Considering the nature of these courses and workshops, there are bound to be exercises and opportunities for members of the same learning group to showcase their true selves. Are they first to volunteer to showcase a new technique or are they hiding behind the group? There is no better way to figure out whether you would be professionally compatible than in group challenge scenarios. Next time you attend a course or workshop, set an intention to notice the people around you and make an effort to connect with someone who could compliment your future growth. 

Now that we have the strategy of creating hybrid activities and can identify alternatives to traditional networking, there is no reason to force ourselves into awkward situations anymore. Most of us hate it, so why do we keep putting ourselves through it? 

You may have noticed I haven’t included digital or online networking. While there is a clear and valuable place for tools like LinkedIn, facebook and Instagram, they are no substitute to ‘traditional networking’ where you have a face to face interaction with someone. When we meet people for the first time its completely different than dropping them an invite to connect or friend request. 

We should be thinking about the legacy we want to leave with the people we come into contact with and be mindful of how they will  remember the interaction. The authenticity of your intentions will be invisibly detected so by using alternative environments and scenarios and combining your networking efforts with the things you already do everyday, your networking will not only grow in numbers but in pure value. 

About the author 

Sarah Labree

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