7 tips you won’t learn at networking events and why you should stop attending networking events

1. “Networking events” are a waste of time

Yup, all of them – “networking mixers”, “networking sessions”, “speed networking” and any other stuff with “networking” in its name.

At so called “networking events”, you won’t meet startup founders, business executives, government officials, recruiters and community leaders. Instead, you will see a lot of sales people of different types selling to sales people who are selling to sales people.

Let’s face it – people who run their businesses are busy running their businesses. People who build their careers are busy building their careers. They don’t go to “networking” events – they are very strategic about building their network.

Let me be clear here: I used to go to these “networking” events myself until I realized what I just shared with you.

You will learn more about me by browsing my LinkedIn page than you will after hearing the 30 seconds elevator pitch & getting a business card you will later throw away.

So where should you go? Well, this one is harder. Go where you can meet people that you are actually looking to meet. Are you interested in meeting product managers? Attend a panel about UX design for product managers.

Do you want to meet sales executives? Check out professional development or executive programs. Industry events, socials, conferences, trade associations, charitable fundraisers etc.

In the ideal world, you don’t want to just wonder around at events. When I am coming to a workshop, I go there to learn. Everything else is secondary.

Instead of “hunting”, reach out and offer a coffee to people you actually want to meet. Get on their schedule. Have a conversation.

If you are looking to meet executives and very busy folks, you won’t find them at events and schmoozers. They value every minute of their time and spend time with their family, friends, or just doing something they love. They can go for a hike, sailing, biking, or even attend a choir. Meet them where they are.

2. Don’t talk to speakers, talk to attendees instead

Are you good at remembering people’s names? Ok, just be honest. I am not. Most of us aren’t, unless we spend some time with a person, or find something really interesting about them.

Why do you think that a speaker at an event with 250+ attendees is going to remember you? I hate to break this, but they won’t. Do an experiment: send a LinkedIn message to a speaker from one of those events saying that “it was awesome meeting you yesterday” and see what happens.

I am not trying to encourage you to lie to people. Instead, when you find yourself surrounded by many people in a large space, I want you to look around. Instead of lining up to say “hi” to a speaker, why don’t you actually connect with other attendees?

People around you are usually more interesting than you can imagine. You can have a great chat. You might find that you both have shared friends, you both have worked in the same company or that you both want to move into the same industry. You got it.

3. Deep networking is king

If you Google “deep networking”, you will find… Nothing LOL I came up with this term last Sunday while trying to explain my friend why attending “networking events” not a smart choice.

I love “Deep Work” by Cal Newport but this is not what I am going to talk about.

I think that while meeting people and talking about stuff is cool, what really makes a difference is sharing experiences of doing something amazing together. Whether it’s volunteering, serving on the non-profit board, running events, coordinating small projects, - anything you can think of.

Having shared interests is good, but it’s when you have shared experiences that people learn if you are reliable, hard working, if you have a sense of humour, and other stuff. Only after working on something together, you ultimately learn people deeper. This is why I call it “deep networking”.

If you want to be successful, you should maximize your exposure to projects and places for “deep networking”. There are a few ways to do it – launch a startup with a co-founder, don’t be an as##ole at work or do some community volunteering.

4. Look around and ask for introductions

Never forget to look in front of you. If you are looking for someone who works in a specific company or someone who has a connection to a specific industry, chances are that you already know either these people, or someone else who can help.

You have classmates, childhood friends, teachers, family doctors, financial planners and many other folks. They all have their own network which might have an answer you are looking for. A girlfriend of your pet sitter might work in Microsoft and a childhood friend of your college instructor might be a hiring manager in Amazon.

Don’t miss what you are ultimately looking for by ignoring the huge network and resources you already have.

The best way to meet people is to ask those you already know for introductions.

5. Reach out to people strategically

The second-best way to meet people is to reach out to them directly. Having coffee chats and 15 min calls with people you have nothing in common with is not an investment. It’s something known as “spray and pray” – doing whatever you can in a weird hope that somehow it will help you succeed.

Before asking someone for a meeting, make sure you understand why you are trying to meet them and what would the ideal outcome of the meeting look like.

Reach out to people you want to meet, offer to buy them a coffee, be clear what are you looking to get out of the conversation and why they should care. Make it easy for them to say “yes” – be ready to meet people at the time and place that works for them.

Don’t take it personally when someone says “no”. Everyone has their own life, their own commitments, and their own priorities. Accept it.  

6. Follow up

Everyone misses this one. Follow up. Send a short email after the meeting. Say thank you, recap the conversation, send a useful article, add something you remembered right after you left the coffee shop… Don’t just disappear after the meeting, be sure to keep the connection.

7. Two obvious things you’ve heard before

These are “build network before you need it” and “offer value”.

First one is obvious. Build network before you need it. I am happy if I can help people that I know but I get irritated when someone schedules a 30 min call just to ask at the end “by the way, can you ______”. This is when I feel like the whole conversation was just about getting to this last point. We both would have been happier if the person just asked for that “by the way____” thing at the beginning.

I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t ask people for help. My advice is to always be open about what you are looking for, what you can offer, and why you need something. Be open and people will help.

Lastly, offer value. Don’t just disappear from the earth once you got that new dream job. Say “hi” sometimes. Say “Happy Holidays” for no other reason than wishing happy Holidays. Send an article that is relevant to someone in your network or an event they might like to attend. These small things add up. Be real.