A couple of days ago I returned from Washington, D.C. after attending an intense, three-day training session where I already knew about half of the 150 people in attendance.
The sessions were practical and worthwhile, and I learned a lot. Equally important, though, I enriched my network of professional contacts.
Before traveling, I deliberately determined that I would network strategically by following these guidelines:
- Sit by a different person at each session. Prior to the conference, I agreed with my office associate that he and I would limit the time we spent together—not because we don’t enjoy each other’s company, but because we already know each other and there would be plenty of time to debrief after we returned to the office.
- Welcome newcomers. A green dot on the name tags identified those attending for the first time. I purposefully reached out to others in the “freshman class” as I recalled how others had warmly welcomed me three years earlier when I was a newbie.
- Renew old acquaintances. During the previous year, many of us had shared very intense and stressful assignments as members of the Advanced Public Affairs Team of the American Red Cross. Some of us had spent long days in the surreal settings of New York City following Superstorm Sandy. This conference served as a reunion and our collective stories came together like a giant jigsaw puzzle as we each shared different pieces of our experience.
- Learn from other people. Networking becomes much more valuable as I approach each conversation knowing that I can learn from the other person’s experience, knowledge or insights. Prior to our conference, I made a list of topics I wanted to discuss with my colleagues from across the country. Magically, I somehow found myself talking with the right people at breaks, during meals or on the shuttle bus.
- Stay connected. A professional network grows in value as it is nurtured over time. In addition to collecting business cards and email addresses, many of us are now connected on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Many of us also agreed to share plans, documents and ideas once we returned to our respective offices.
I returned from my conference gratified that my life and my career had been enriched because of the incredible people I connected (and reconnected) with.
Building a strong professional network never develops by happenstance. It requires a strategy and a plan. What’s your plan?