Order Up Some Introductions

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Every meeting, event, or group gathering is networking opportunity where you might meet several interesting people.

But, if you've been out networking, you know how hard it is to find the people who are more than interesting contacts — the people who become great business partners, friends, or more.

Introductions make networking more productive

One way to make networking easier is to be introduced to just the right person by someone with a large network of people.

Mary Kurek, a professional networker who seeks out the best connections for her clients, is sharing her network at the upcoming E3 conference for the gaming industry. She is holding a networking event at E3 — and inviting attendees to submit an "order" for the person they'd like to be introduced to:

The best part of E3 — besides the fun — will be the connections you make. It's my aim, during this tweet up, to help you make this the most amazing networking event you've ever attended.

Connectors like Mary provide a great service by making networking more productive and fun.

You can be a connector, too

No matter how many people are in your network, you can start a networking group and introduce people to each other, too.

Gather people together and introduce them to each other. Encourage them to continue their conversation in person or on the phone (or Skype) — and to plan something they can work on together.

And, if you want to place an order for quality connections, contact Mary.

By taking the lead in hosting a networking event and helping people get connected, Mary is deinately a 10.

How to Start a Networking Group

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Meeting people at networking events is a great way to grow your professional network of connections — plus increase the frequency of visiting with people you already know.

People who share a common interest, problem, or profession benefit from spending face-to-face time with like-minded people.

You know networking is great — however, there are times when you can't find a well-matched networking group near you that meets your needs.

Solve this networking dilemma — when there's no networking group near you, start one.

Benefits of starting a networking group

Starting and running a networking group is a lot of work, so you need to think about how you will not only spend the time necessary, but benefit from your time investment.

A few years ago a few friends and I started a networking group because we wanted to network with other entrepreneurs like us, and there was no group in our area. Some people start a networking group to turn it into a business, while others start a networking group that's part of their existing business. And yes, some want the social benefits.

The three Ps of a networking group

There are the essential ingredients to a successful networking group:

  • Purpose — How will attendees benefit from attending meetings and making new contacts? Is there a "passion" that will encourage participation?
  • People — What common interest or need will hold your community together?
  • Place — Where will your networking group meet that attendees will find comfortable and convenient?
  • Promotion — How will you reach out to new people in the area who share an interest in the networking group's purpose for meeting?

Mission and purpose

Here are several leadership questions that will help you create a clear picture of what your networking group will accomplish:

  • What interest will your attendees and members have in common?
  • How will people benefit by attending your networking events?
  • How will people meet new contacts that will lead to beneficial relationships?

There are a wide variety of networking groups, such as:

  • Business and social networking group — People who want to socialize and form relationships with others in their specific profession or industry.
  • Networking leads and referral group — Salespeople and business development people who work together to help their customers.
  • Job leads group — People who share job opportunities with others who are looking for a job.

In addition to helping the people who attend your networking meetings, think about how you will benefit, too. It takes a lot of time and work to start and run a networking group, and you need to think about how you will benefit from taking on this leadership role. If you don't receive a reasonable return on your invested time and money - chances are you will burn out before the group can reach critical mass.
Networking needs people

Every networking group needs several types of people:

  • Founders — People who lead, plan, and recruit others to attend.
  • Supporters — People who help the networking group grow and thrive by inviting their contacts to meetings, making introduction, and, in some cases, sponsor networking meetings and special events.
  • Attendees — People who attend the meetings, participate, and engage with other who are looking to network and create mutually beneficial relationships.

Networking groups need programs

Many networking groups get started with the idea that people will just naturally attend and mingle and meet people. This can work well in the early days when the founders and supporters invite people they know and who have a core shared interest in socializing.

However, as the group grows, it helps to have a "program" that attracts new people to attend. Each meeting's program also shapes and develops the common interest of the people attending each meeting — new people know that those who share an interest in the programs topic will attend.

The typical program at most networking groups, association chapters, and other interest groups is a guest speaker from outside the group. However, there are several other types of program formats, such as:

  • Featured member presentation
  • Every attendee makes a mini-presentation
  • Every attendee participates in a "speed networking" activity where everyone meets everyone else one-to-one

Places to network

Finding a location for a new networking group to meet is usually easy, but it becomes more difficult as the group attracts more attendees.

New networking groups normally start by meeting at free locations, such as:

  • Conference room at a member's office
  • Coffee shop
  • Restaurant
  • Lobby of a large hotel

An example of location used by a lot of small and casual networking groups is their nearest Panera Bread location. Their locations have plenty of room, good coffee and snacks, and free WiFi!

Free locations like these allow a networking group to avoid charging for attendance. Each person just pays for whatever they eat or drink.

However, as the number of people who attend increases, it will become necessary to contract with venues that handle larger meetings and events. This means that the organizers need to pay for the room, and for the food and drinks provided to attendees. And, this means that attendees need to pay to attend the networking events. Collecting fees can be handled by either having people register online before the event or pay at the door.

Promoting a networking group's meetings

Networking groups thrive when there is a mix of regular attendees who frequently attend plus new, interested people at each event — and this takes promotion.

Some networking groups try to promote their meetings by just posting a notice on their Web event calendar and sending a personal e-mail to the people in their contact list. This doesn't work well because it usually doesn't reach a significant number of people who might attend, and it doesn't remind people frequently enough to break through the clutter of media overload.

The very best way to promote a networking event to your core participants is to send several e-mails to everyone who has attended in the past. The easiest way to do this is to use an online meeting promotion and RSVP service, such as SureToMeet.

Networking groups need to attract new people to attend, participate, and become loyal members. This is effectively achieved by promoting the group's meetings and events in several ways:

  • Referrals — Make it easy for previous attendees to invite their friends and associates.
  • Social media — Post announcements on social media sites where like-minded followers and friends can click through to the event Web page and RSVP.
  • Traditional and online media — Post announcements on Web calendar sites, and send announcements to local newspapers with calendar sections.
  • Sign-up form — Make it easy for people to subscribe to your meeting notices with an online registration form.

Planning the new networking group

Each of the start-up elements of starting and growing a networking group has a lot of details, so to make your networking debut easier for you, we've created an interactive planning tool for starting and running a networking group. Just start at the top level of the interactive mind map, and drill down to the specific action items and tasks that will help you create your networking group's meetings and events.

Do Big Events Still Work?

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Big events used to be a great way to pull people together, motivate them, and update them on new information. Corporations held large internal meetings. And, industry associations held large annual conventions for their members.

However, the low cost of the Internet and the high cost of convention halls, hotels, and airlines - plus the lost productivity - has resulted in a decrease in the number of those huge corporate events and week-long industry conferences.

Seth Godin questions big event value

Seth Godin recently sparked a conversation on the Web on whether big events are still valuable. He was referring to large events such as product introductions, but the meeting/event industry used his piece to discuss the challenges of their industry.

And, the meetings and events industry that produces large events is facing some big challenges. I can name almost a dozen large conferences I used to attend that don't exist anymore. And, many other large events just aren't so large these days,

For example, a few weeks ago I attended a large industry association conference in Las Vegas to help a startup company research a manufacturing technology. Not being from that industry, we needed to get up to speed quickly, meet vendors selling that technology, and evaluate the technology.

Unfortunately, the conference had no educational sessions on this small, emerging technology. So, we met with the handful of vendors - whose booths were scattered across multiple buildings. And, since attendance at the show was down the people in the booths had plenty a time to talk with us.

It turned out that it would have been much more productive and inexpensive for us to attend a day-long seminar with presentations by just these vendors.

Replacing conventions and big conferences

What's replacing those huge conventions and conferences? Two things.

  • First, of course, is the Internet. Initially, e-mail discussion groups and forums provided information more quickly than trade magazines and annual conferences. Today, webinars and self-paced e-learning deliver information and education where and when you need it.
  • Second, local/regional meetings and events provide an easy and inexpensive way to meet with likeminded people face-to-face more frequently than at annual conferences. In addition, the quality of presentations at local groups and chapter meetings is frequently as valuable as those at large national conferences.

The big, expensive conferences will survive on lower attendance. They just won't be so big and expensive.

Local events & meetings

Expect to see a lot more local groups and organizations produce high-quality meetings and events around the narrow, specific interests of their members - which will reduce the need to fly off to large conventions.

Have a comment? Click here to addd to this conversation on Google Buzz.

Interactive Webinar Planning Tool

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The Web-based webinar has become a popular way to make a presentation to people no matter where they are. However, online webinars have gotten a bad reputation - audience members do other tasks during webinars, and some people say they have left the room while a webinar is in progress.

Since SureToMeet provides event registration services for organizations holding both in-person meetings and online webinars, we have an interest in organizations having successful webinars!

Improving the webinar experience

It has become so easy and inexpensive to hold a webinar that it's easy to neglect the event planning and content preparation that's essential for a quality webinar experience. So, we created a free, interactive webinar planning tool as a source of "webinar best practices." These webinar planning ideas can help all webinar producers improve their webinar results.

Just start at the top level and click down to the specific action items and tasks that will help you produce a successful and beneficial webinar.

Appealing to Member "Hot Buttons"

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People attend meeting and events over and over again because they feel they receive value from attending each time. Once they attend a few meetings and don't feel that they benefited they quit attending.

It's no secret that we all act that way. What seems to be a secret to many groups and organizations is how to deliver the "value" that members and volunteers are seeking.

During her Lazy Leader Road Show, Cynthia D'Amour shared how to attract (and retain) members by appealing to their "hot buttons." People who attend meetings are looking for some combination of these attributes:

  • Personal/professional development
  • Make a difference
  • Be part of a community

Every organization is different, so each organization's members look for different combinations of these attributes.

Chapters of professional organizations rely more on professional development than a business networking mixer group. But, both types of organizations have the same challenge -- to deliver the "value" that meets the needs of members in these three areas.

Networking Without an Elevator Speech Pitch

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If you've read any books or articles about networking, then you've seen the suggestion to come up with what's called an "elevator speech" pitch. The idea is that you should be able to completely describe what your company sells and why customers buy from you in less than a minute -- during an elevator ride.

For a long time I tried to do this. I worked on creating an elevator pitch for networking events, but I found that the elevator pitch monologue just didn't feel right. After all, it was supposed to be a conversation.

Then, I found the article Kill the Elevator Speech about abandoning the idea of having an elevator pitch. What it said made sense -- convey the same information that's in an elevator speech, but do it step-by-step in a conversation!

I'm not saying that an elevator speech isn't helpful.

Just writing an elevator pitch is helpful to clarify what your company offers. But, it turns out that an elevator speech is useful only for events where delivering a short pitch is the format for the meeting. For example, the pitch fest meetings where entrepreneurs pitch potential investors on investing in their company in less than a minute is an interesting and entertaining format, but it seldom results in a worthwhile new connection.

Elevator speeches are also valuable at "speed networking" events where the objective is to tell your pitch quickly, or listen to the other person's pitch, so you can make the most of the few minutes you have -- before moving on to the next person's pitch.

However, in the casual, conversational setting of a networking mixer, it's better to use a slightly different technique.

Here is a simple, one sentence format for introducing your story in a way that's easy for the other person to remember:

[Company] provides [product or service solution] that helps [type of customer] [benefit].

Here are some examples to show how this template can be used:

  • Apple Computer provides computer-based products that helps people use digital content.
  • Honda provides cars and trucks to both consumers and businesses that are used to go places.
  • The Los Angeles Times provides news and information to people in Southern California that helps them stay in touch with their community.
  • SureToMeet provides meeting registration services that helps event organizers attract more people to events and meetings.

Most of these companies provide more than one product or service. But, people at busy networking events can only remember one thing that your company provides.

Start conversations with your one sentence introduction, and be ready to answer questions about your company as they come up in the conversation.

So, set the elevator speech aside for when an event calls for you to deliver a short pitch. Then, come up with a short way to quickly describe the one thing you want people at networking events to remember that you can provide.

Business Networking Online

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Business networking is a big part of how business deals get done these days -- but it has become harder and harder to make business networking beneficial.

For some people, face-to-face networking at meetings for professional groups and association chapters works well to meet new people.

For others, online networking using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail discussion lists works well to increase the number of connections, friends, and followers.

I have used both methods for a long time, and they work well for meeting new people. But both fall short when it comes to growing a relationship with someone you've met. That takes a different type of networking. It takes engaging in activities together over time.

Tony Karrer has cone up with a technique called "Visible Networking" that's likely to overcome some of these problems. With Visible Networking a group of people have their networking conversations online in public:

What do I mean by visible networking, well it's simply the idea that instead of having a 30 minute phone conversation, why not have that conversation out in public view. Twitter is pretty much that already. But I'm thinking about deeper conversations than I have on twitter. So, clearly it would make sense to do this in my blogs. And I'm thinking about having these conversations both with people I already know and people that I've just met or are just getting to know.

I told Tony:

Your idea of "Visible Networking" can help people take the "glad to meet you" networking to the next level -- "glad to know you" relationships. Then, face-to-face meetings and activities become much more valuable. I see Visible Networking as a series of conversations around blog posts, and encouraging a group of people to actively participate. It's like a dinner discussion where a topic is discussed, then the group moves to the next topic.

Yes, blogs has been touted as a place to have conversations, but Tony is doing Visible Networking by starting the conversation in a blog post, then continuing the conversation in the comments. And, since he's using a public blog anyone can join the conversation.

This technique can work well for any group, organization, or association chapter where many members don't know each other. Visible Networking can help give visibility to each member, and encourage other members to participate in the conversations.

Should I Join an Association? If you have the time

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Many business people are reevaluating every expenditure to ensure that every dollar produces value.

This reevaluation includes memberships in associations and other business groups.

Shira Levine wrote a good reminder on six ways to get value from joining an association: A Good Business Move: Joining Associations

Her main theme is that it takes more than just paying an association's membership dues in order to get the most value from the membership -- it takes an investment of time.

Creating a Personal Branding Strategy

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Every time you interact with another person their impression of you changes.

With each interaction they have a better understanding of who you are, what you believe -- and how you will act in certain situations.

These changes are more frequent and pronounced when you are out networking at events because those relationships are new. So, it's important to make sure the way people perceive you helps you achieve your goals, and not detracts from it.

Ever since Tom Peters wrote the article "The Brand Called You" writers, consultants, and coaches have been helping people understand the concept of "personal branding."

Unfortunately, most of what has been written about personal branding has been on how to project a "brand image" -- not on how to decide what that image should be.

Heather Schlegel, a marketing consultant and event producer, has combined both personal branding strategy and tactics into a single mind map diagram. Her Personal Branding and Audience Development Worksheet shows how to decide what your personal brand should be -- and how to implement your personal brand strategy.

Take a look at her diagram to see how to evaluate and improve your personal brand image.

Tech Events in Southern California

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Southern California is the home for thousands of technology companies such as MySpace in Los Angeles, Linksys in Orange County, and Qualcomm in San Diego.

And what do you find in a high-tech community -- in addition to technology? Events. Lots of Events.

It's been difficult to keep up on the technology events in Southern California. Several Web sites have calendars of events in SoCal communities. However, not every event organizer lists their gathering on those sites

The Technology Council of Southern California and TechEmpower have created Southern California Tech Central, a new Web site that makes it much easier to keep up with the whole technology sector in Southern California.

Here's a page with posts about SoCal events http://cc.tcosc.org/event/.

Check out the Southern California Tech Central -- and keep up with the tech events Southern California.

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