“Networking, again” – ever catch yourself thinking this? The first few networking events were exciting, eye-opening and humbling. But as you attend more events, networking increasingly feels like a routine or chore. You start the same conversations with “how is your day going?” or “what brings you here?” Everyone wants to talk to the most important people in the room and make as many best impressions as they can. Yet the problem is, networking is confined to the finite space and time of the event. Networking has adapted to efficiency, and conversations often shift to quantity rather than quality. The event feels like a routine because we catch ourselves being inauthentic, rushed and with an underlying purpose of collecting “connections” on LinkedIn.
While networking can be challenging, having a supportive event structure can help ease constraints. Just like all relationships, effective networking can only thrive in an environment of intimacy and authenticity. Committed to nurturing relationships and meaningful networking opportunities, the Graduate Women’s Council has adapted a successful 3-part networking model for its signature ‘Run the World’ Series:
Every networking event starts with a tailored theme. This not only entices participation, but also acts as an icebreaker. Recently, the Graduate Women’s Council invited executives from Saje Natural Wellness to present a keynote speech focused on personal development, retail environment and business in BC. This event was open to all Beedie Graduate students and included a question/answer period, introductory networking and even an empowering photo booth (see photos). The objective of this initial presentation was to stimulate audience engagement and to prompt networking conversation starters. At the end of this session, there was a room full of bright light bulbs in everyone’s minds – and this was only the beginning.
The “ah-ha” moments triggered by the presentation calls for in-depth sharing and discussion – the next step was to create an intimate environment where participants feel comfortable asking questions, showing vulnerability and creating authentic conversations. Immediately following the “icebreaker”, the Graduate Women’s Council hosted a sit-down, 3-course dinner for a few like-minded individuals to closely connect with the executives. This comfortable settings helps to eliminate the intimidation and hastiness of traditional networking. Participants also had a chance to deliberate information processed at the icebreaker and ask private questions to the small group and executives. Conversations naturally started to identify personal and professional common interests.
The best conversations are those that cause an emotional connection and leave room for more. The last stage of successful networking extends the relationships beyond the event. The Women’s Council ended the event by sending out participant contact information (with permission, of course) to the executives. Networking relationships often transform into friendship, mentorship or even employment. Ultimately this is an opportunity for reciprocal relationships to emerge, shifting the flawed “what can I get out of this” mindset into an authentic “what can I offer?”
While there is no one size fits all networking model, the Run the World Series offers a creative strategy that successfully facilitates an intimate environment for organic relationships to develop and mature. Keeping in mind the same takeaways, your personal adaptive models can achieve a similar effect – if there is no opportunity for a sit-down dinner, one can just as easily create these opportunities through coffee chats or informational interviews. As young professionals, we often limit ourselves to thinking that we have nothing significant to offer to senior executives, yet it takes time to create connections and comfort to openly share insight and knowledge. The purpose of networking is to look through different windows of experience that may inspire you to build your path.
The next time you dread going to a networking event, consider it may not be you, it may be the structure of networking and the way we have conceded into its constraints. The good news is, you can take control of this.
Established in 2011, GWC is comprised of passionate Beedie School of Business students who believe that knowledge-sharing and networking with executive women can lead to enhanced careers and greater diversity in BC leadership. The 2017-2018 Run the World Series is comprised of 4 networking events, each representing different industries (such as finance, entrepreneurship, retail and technology), and featuring inspiring female leaders to provide guidance, education and real world expertise.
Jessica is a full-time MBA candidate at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. Born and raised in Vancouver, she has four years of professional experience in higher international education program management, advising, and recruitment. With a passion for people, diversity and engagement, Jessica is currently the VP of Events in the SFU Graduate Women’s Council, Beedie Student Ambassador and SFU Teaching Assistant. She is looking forward to new opportunities in customer experience, community engagement and process improvement upon completion of the MBA Program. Find out more about Jessica through LinkedIn or contact her via e-mail at email@example.com.