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A great way to expand your network and be recognized as a leader is to bring a few people together and see what happens. Need some ideas for what to do? Try these new ideas for finding common ground:

  1. Trending Topic — By following some local people on Twitter I saw a post from Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent about a free gathering to talk about social media.   I have learned to just go when I think something might be interesting and am usually glad I did. With coffee donated by Saxby’s and space provided by Villanova University, we had a dynamic breakfast gathering of about 20 people, only one of whom I had ever met before.
  2. Similar Client Focus — I was recently invited to a small lunch gathering by Julie Friedman Bacchini of Neptune Moon Design. We met once at a member-based networking group and she decided to invite me and 5 other people who all work with non-profits to a lunch.  I met some interesting people, got some new ideas and found a new writer to add to my list of resources.
  3. Cross Pollinating —  Know some people from one group who would be great for another? I have some peers from an association who are thinking of starting a new, niche association. They reached out to active members and mixed in other colleagues to explore the idea.
  4. Six Degrees — Years ago I met a dynamic marketer at Aramark. who is a generous referrer. Since we met, she has introduced me to a fabulous writer, and a number of other marketers. Those referrals have connected me to a brilliant strategist, subcontractors and a host of clients. I realized that the original contacts had all moved on and had not seen each other in person in years — a perfect time to arrange a lunch or drinks to thanks them for the bounty their efforts bring.
  5. Shared Need — A colleague recently introduced me to Linda Bandura, a startup marketer/designer. Within a week of meeting, Linda invited me to a head shot party she arranged with her photographer. It was a small gathering of women professionals to chat, drink tea and get that professional portrait taken that we need but all avoid. A fun way to network — and a brilliant way for a photographer to meet new prospects and a marketer to be seen as a leader. I liked it so much, I am thinking of planning one of my own and inviting clients and prospects.
  6. Fun for a Cause — Many nonprofits host social events as fundraisers. I was invited to join a group for Martini’s and Makeovers at Saks Fifth Avenue to support Dragonfly Forest, a camp for children with serious illnesses. Going to a public event with a few others you know makes it easier to try something new.
  7. Great Resource Discussion — Rather than your standard book group, try gathering to share your best resource. You could each share a synopsis of the lessons learned from a recent blog, webinar, conference or a favorite website.

An advantage of the micro-event is that it is once and done. No weekly meeting, no heavy preparation unless the group wants that. The purpose is to bring together people with some shared interest to then branch off and form their own new relationships.

The interesting thing about these events is that none of the leaders self promoted. Just coordinating and connecting raised their profile and left the impression of leadership — without saying a word other than “welcome” and “ I thought you might like to know each other”.  Think about what kind of mini-events you can plan to get to know new resources, referrers and prospects.

Looking for other ideas for how to connect in small groups, read Networking Goes Small.

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My niece started college this year at a large state university. Due to scheduling, she wasn’t able to join the club sport she participated in all through high school. It wasn’t long before she realized that she was having trouble finding a group among the masses and needed to find a way to scale down her experience. As a child she was a swimmer, so she joined the swimming club and has now found a group she can call her own. The huge crowd has been brought down to relationship scale.

When joining a new organization the size can often be overwhelming. Joining – or creating – a small group-within-a-group Is a great stepping stone to one-on-one relationships. Some trends to try:

  • Find a club — Affinity clubs help people bond over similar interests. Sharing a favorite activity with a small group is a great way to build contacts and friendships. If your favorite activity isn’t available, start your own.
  • Take it online – Online communities are great for addressing special interests. Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr all have privacy settings that allow only members to see content. Connecting with members online often allows people to stay in touch and learn more about each other faster.
  • Bring it offline – Like everywhere else, in online communities people are seeking personal connection. Twitter users are connecting in person with local events called “tweetups”. Search www.search.twitter.com for events in your area. The NHL team the Washington Capitals created a LinkedIn group for fans and then invited them to a game. Read “A Different Look at Networking” to learn more. If you have joined a group and are only participating virtually, attend an in-person meet-up or plan one yourself.
  • Get social – Choose a few people you know a little and host a micro-event. Bringing together people you know who don’t know each other is a great way to get to know everyone better. For some great ideas, read 7 Ideas for Small Group Networking.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting to know the first few people. If you meet one person, ask him or her whom else you should know. Get a few of those people together to discuss a topic of common interest, industry trends, or just to meet others and you have a manageable event that is less stressful than a room full of people and more comfortable for some than a one-on-one lunch or meeting.

For people looking to make friends or build business relationships, a small group invitation can help avoid uncomfortable situations, confusion with dating, or worry about having enough to say. Next time you’d like to get to know someone better, invite a few others and see what happens.

Networking is hard enough without being in the wrong room. Choosing the right organizations, where you have the best chance of feeling comfortable, showing up and meeting great people is key. Some great tips come from Jill Walser in an article titled “How I Overcame My Aversion to Networking and Learned to Love It”:

I initially looked at about eight different options and decided that the organizations I chose needed to meet four criteria:
1. They needed to be relevant to what I did.
2. They needed to have a face-to-face component and the people there needed to be happy to see me.
3. They needed to be filled with spark plugs – people very excited to be there and to be doing what they did for a living.
4. They needed to be easy to get to and offered at convenient times.

And to make it fun, try Ilise Benun’s tip:

You can even use [your nametag] to ask a question about a resource you need (“Know any good designers?”) Make it funny or unusual. Others will notice and see it as an invitation into conversation.

From her excellent article “How Not To Network”. Scroll down and read all the comments, there are some great ideas.

Jamie Ridler‘s strategy is to think differently about what you are doing. In her article “Give up Networking and Grow” she says:

“I’m that woman at the networking meeting having one more cup of coffee just to have something to do (and trust me, more caffeine doesn’t improve the situation). As a business owner, I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I had to do something to grow my circle, and I wanted to do it in a way that was authentic and that felt good.”

There are so many great ideas for overcoming reluctance to get involved. Try some of these and see if there is a gem in there for you.

Prime Seating

One of the things I always find fascinating is that people from the same company attend a networking meeting together and stay together the entire time. Many events have a stand-up networking time followed by a seated presentation or meal.  If you have come with colleagues — or just chatted with the folks you know during the open networking time, now is the time to change it up. Some tips to to find great networking seats:

  • When it is close to time to be seated, find someone new to talk to and then move with them to a seat.
  • Scout the tables as people are seating themselves. Look for one that is almost full so you have the most opportunity to meet people.
  • If you are more comfortable connecting with your own gender, look for tables that have someone you think you could talk to.
  • Think about your best clients – their gender, age, how they dress. It can give you clues to others who may be good prospects. I frequently work with marketing directors and have noticed that they often dress a bit more adventurously than others, so I look for someone in a brighter color, a pattern or fabulous shoes. If I am wrong, it still gives me something to compliment as a conversation opener.
  • If there will be a presentation, grab the seat at the back of the table. I recently got stuck in a front seat and had to figure out how to gracefully eat soup while watching the presenter who was behind me. Note to coordinators – think about what you are serving if your presenter will speak during the meal.
  • If it is not a meal, and the chairs are set up in rows, find someone to sit with whom you spoke to during open networking.
  • Look for others who did not come with colleagues and sit with them.

Networking doesn’t have to end when you sit down. With just a little observation and strategy, the whole event can be more productive.

So, how were your holidays? Go to any good parties? Meet any new people? Learn something new about anyone?

Like everyone else, I attended numerous holiday events of all kinds, business, staff, family, friends, family again, parents of my kids’ friends…you get it. With the density of festivities during the holidays we get lots of opportunities to practice networking tactics – from upfront to subtle.

Sometimes I am aware that I am networking, sometimes I attend with a plan, and other times a comment a guest makes at a purely social function makes that little click happen in my head that throws me into networker mode when I wasn’t even thinking that way. This can be great – the ability to socialize casually and still keep my ears open for threads of business interest is a valuable skill. Or it can get me into trouble. I have had to squash the urge when it’s really not appropriate – like talking to my husband’s new boss at his awards dinner. Repeat the mantra: not about me not about me. It helps.

This year I experimented with doing the opposite of what I often do. At a New Year’s Day brunch hosted by my sons’ coach I was chatting with one of the hostess’ work colleagues and she mentioned something she does for her clients. The alert in my head instantly jumped to “so, what kind of clients do you have?” but I decided not go there. Instead we started talking about jewelry and I think I learned a lot more about who she is than if I drilled in on her job right away. I can always ask the host what someone does, but I might have learned something the host doesn’t know by avoiding talking about work.

It was a fun and interesting month. As we move into a new year, think about what new things you can try to make great connections.

An interesting thing about business networking, it that if you do it enough you are bound to start running into people you have already met. For some people, this can be a gift to have someone you recognize and feel comfortable approaching, for others it’s frustrating to meet the same people over and over.

Either way of thinking, make the most of the event by taking that relationship to the next level. Jan Kopple had a great suggestion “I find out one new thing about someone I already know”. It is so easy to see someone familiar and chat about the information you already know, or to avoid them in hopes of meeting fresh leads, but it is not really helpful.

I can’t count how many times I have known someone for quite a while before we discovered how we could help each other. To speed up the process, don’t stop at asking for referrals. Take a look at this great list from Hazel Walker of the Networking Strategist Blog:

  1. You could put an article about my services in your newsletter, I will do the same for you.
  2. You could invite me to a networking opportunity that you may be going to.
  3. You could nominate me for an award it would build my credibility
  4. You could attend an event with me; it would create visibility for both of us.
  5. You could display my information or products in your office or store.
  6. You could mention me in your blog.
  7. You could read my blog and comment, and then link to my blog.
  8. You could introduce me to your network
  9. You could write an article for my newsletter
  10. You could invite your best client to our chapter so I could meet them.
  11. You could WRITE me a great testimonial that I could used in my materials.
  12. You could put my brochure or information in your client mailings.

Having some ideas about what you could ask to learn more and get more out of networking makes it much easier to respond. Not everyone will be comfortable recommending a prospect right away, but most people are happy to help in smaller ways to get to know you better.

There is nothing worse than being late to a sit-down event. If you ever had the weight of 30 eyes on you as you walk in to a room full of strangers, you know what I mean.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of being invited to an exclusive event run by professional speaker, productivity expert and supreme networker, Neen James. It was a morning event downtown at the city club to which I belong. Excellent, I do that drive all the time and know where to park (a stresser in any city) and which back roads to take. Or so I thought.

This meeting started at 8:30 am, an hour later than then many morning networking events I have attended at the Club. I live and work a mile and a half apart in the suburbs, so I am not a seasoned commuter. Apparently, you can’t use 7:30 traffic as a guide for all rush hour traffic. To make matters worse, one reliable back road had a car accident, and it was trash day in the city – which I discovered when the trash truck trapped me two car lengths from where I had to turn into the garage.

Of course I wanted to turn around and forget it once I realized I was going to be embarrassingly late, but I did not want the hostess to regret inviting me. The challenge on a day like this is how to put the stress and embarrassment behind you and have a productive event. Some tips to get you back on track:

  • Take a minute. Take off your coat, check your hair, put on some lipstick (if appropriate) and take a breath. Flying into the room with a flustered apology only calls more attention to yourself.
  • Get settled. Scan for a seat, and get situated without fuss. If you think you’ll need a pen or a mint, make it accessible before entering the room.
  • Focus. You made it, don’t waste the effort. Turn your attention to the speaker and really pay attention.
  • Apologize later. Afterwards, if it was small enough of a gathering for the host to notice, make one sincere apology and limit the excuses.

You can still have a worthwhile networking day even with a bad start. I have three meetings set up already and a number of LinkedIn invites from an event that started badly. Don’t shrink into your shell, shake it off and do what you came for, you’ll be glad you made the effort.