A nice quiet evening with friends can feel like the best thing in the world after a long day. Unless you’re a raving extrovert, however, networking probably doesn’t fill your heart with joy in quite the same way. If you’d rather get a root canal that attend a networking event, you might be looking at things from the wrong perspective – or forcing yourself to attend functions you could safely skip.
That’s the good news: you absolutely do not have to attend every networking event. Picking and choosing could go a long way toward reducing the yuck factor.
Good news: you absolutely do not have to attend every networking event. Here's how to choose.
So, should you go to your next networking event? It depends on what kind:
- Lunch or dinner with co-workers you’re not crazy about.
No, you don’t have to go. You can feel free to skip a small gathering organized by a co-worker or colleague that you’re not proud of or don’t particularly like. Even if there will be a couple of people there that you don’t know, rolling out a new relationship via someone you wouldn’t necessarily recommend for a job doesn’t send the right message to the next contact. Sure, you could get lucky and forge a wonderful new professional contact at an event like this, but the chances aren’t high enough to make it worth your time.
Yes, you should attend conferences when possible, and you should view them as the powerful networking opportunities that they are.
The key to navigating these events effectively (and more enjoyably) is to stay away from focusing too much on career advancement. Studies have found that focusing on building professional support rather than trying to find people to help you get ahead will improve your experience and help you build stronger connections.
Yes, you should definitely plan to attend this kind of an event – but only if you really want to.
If a group of colleagues, or a group of folks in your field, are getting together to participate in an activity that sounds exciting to you anyway, why not join in? You’ll bond personally (and ultimately, professionally) as you experience something fun and exciting together. If a whitewater rafting trip or a day of golf doesn’t float your boat though, don’t bother. Wait until something comes around that feels like a sincere fit.
- When you’ll be an audience member…
No, this probably isn’t a great networking opportunity, and you should feel free to skip t.
If you’re invited to participate in a panel discussion, meaning you’re asked to sit on the panel, by all means go for it. This could be a great networking opportunity and a good all-around professional experience to boot. However, if you’re invited simply to attend a panel discussion and sit in the audience, it’s probably not worth your time. Unless you’re sincerely interested in the topic at hand and feel that you can grow from listening to the discussion, don’t bother with this kind of event as it’s unlikely you’ll meet anyone new.
The right networking events for you are the ones where you’ll be an active participant in an activity of some kind. And, the more people who will be attending whom you haven’t met before, the better chance you’ll form new connections.
Small events where you’ll be a passive listener rather than an active participant probably aren’t worth your time. Opt into events that genuinely pique your interest, and be sure to chat up new people while you’re there. Remember, focusing on building a network of professional support rather than a network that will help you advance should make networking more comfortable and strengthen some new and sincere bonds.
Try to enjoy yourself too, while you’re at it. That never hurt anything either.
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