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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.

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.

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.

Shy Networkers are Great Networkers

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Have you ever encouraged a friend or associate to attend a networking event with you, only to have them say, "I'm too shy and quiet to go to networking events." You've probably thought about how most of the people you've met at networking events are a bit shy, too.

In fact, when was the last time you saw a loud, boisterous salesperson at a networking event? The stereotypical salesperson at networking events is long gone because it just doesn’t work.

When I saw the post by Lindsey Pollak Why Shy People Make Great Networkers I thought about a person I've known for several years. He considers himself somewhat shy, yet he attends many events, has a large business and social network -- and is always in demand by large companies.

Lindsay tells the five reasons why she thinks shy people make great networkers:

  1. They ask for personal referrals
  2. They are polite
  3. They listen more than they talk
  4. They bring a wingman (or woman)
  5. They network online

When you read Lindsey's detailed explanation of those points, think about how these techniques fit your personality for networking.

Networking is nothing more than nurturing personal relationships that create opportunities for people to help each other.

So, share Lindsey's post with friends who you would like to see attend networking events with you. You might have a new networking buddy!

Make a Difference with the Story of Stuff

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One of the benefits of the Internet is that it's helped us become aware of how the large issues in the would affect us. At the same time, it's become more frustrating when we try to take action and "make a difference" to improve things.

How many times have you sent a YouTube link about an important issue to your contact list -- then wondered if the video made a difference in how they act? The same frustration happens when trying to use social networking sites like Facebook to made a difference.

So, how do you really make a difference on the key issues you're concerned about? Face-to-face with the people you want to influence.

When you interact with people face-to-face you have an excellent opportunity to answer their questions immediately, as well as grow your relationships with them.

For example, if you're concerned about the environment, help your friends and associates understand your concern. Annie Leonard has created a 20 minute video on the "Story of Stuff" that you can use to host a house party in your home or present at a local organization.

She also provides a complete set of communications tools, including a discussion guide, group activities, and a list of ways individuals can make a difference in advancing sustainability.

When your organization publicizes a public event like this in SureToMeet remember to select the category "Green/Sustainability" on the event description form. This helps publicize your event in three ways.

  1. It helps people find your event in the SureToMeet calendar of local events.
  2. Your event will be included in the SureToMeet weekly newsletter that's sent to people who want to know about sustainable and green events in their area.
  3. Your event will be automatically included on other Web sites that use the SureToMeet database of sustainable and green events, such as California Green Solutions.

Using SureToMeet to publicize events is just one of the ways you can use the Internet to make a difference in your community -- and the world.

Business Networking and Dating are Alike

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Meeting new people and nurturing business relationships is very similar to the process that singles use in forming new personal relationships.

Gina Hendrix, an expert matchmaker in Los Angeles, has recently started blogging about the dating tips she shares with clients. Her recent post on "Basic dating do's & don'ts for men" reminded me of some of the tips I give people on business networking.

One tip is especially important: Be generally interested in what the other person says.

Too often people in a conversation are thinking more about what they'll say when it's their turn, instead of responding to what the other person just said.

It's more than just hearing what the other person said. It's best to ask a question or make a comment. Make it clear that you heard both the factual part and the emotional feelings that the other person expressed.

For example, if someone says, "The price of jewelry is going up!" you better know if that person is a buyer or a seller of jewelry before you automatically respond with a comment.

In addition to paying close attention to what someone says during a conversation, take good notes later. Open your contact manager and use the notes feature to enter the details that you learned. Be sure to note interesting facts that they shared, and pay close attention to their likes and dislikes.

Then, before your next visit review your past notes so you'll be prepared to move the conversation - and the relationship - along.

Whether you are meeting new people to expand your business network or your social network, many of the techniques for growing those relationships are the same.

TV Viewing Parties Build Relationships

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For several years we have hosted viewing parties for TV shows that several of us have wanted to watch together. In some years there are 2-3 shows that the group wants to watch, so several people record several of the shows.

Before we created SureToMeet, it was hard to schedule several weeks of viewing parties. It was almost funny watching the host on his cell phone and landline phone talking to two people while he was IMing someone else!

Now, each person's comments on the event page create a temporary "community" as they keep updating their notes about which shows they're bringing, plans for food, etc.

We recently saw the pilots for several new TV shows. Bionic Woman is the first show of the new season that we all want to watch; we'll pick another soon, I'm sure.

This year we also decided to create a special Web site to promote the idea of hosting TV viewing parties, especially Bionic Woman.

Viewing parties have been a great way to nurture friendships. Ask several friends and acquaintances which new TV show they like, then host a party each week and watch it together.

Personal Relationships

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There are now a wide range of ways we can communicate electronically with other people that can help -or hurt - personal relationships. I use e-mail a lot to provide detailed answers and information. We all use e-mail a lot - perhaps too much for our own good.

Joel Block, who helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses, posted a reminder about how to grow relationships:

There are several problems with relying on e-mail as your primary source of communication. First, it's impersonal. There is little true relationship-building through e-mail.

He's right that e-mail is better for sending detailed information than it is for nurturing relationships:

Be personal. Pick up the phone or take people out to lunch. That's the old fashion way, but it works, and many of us still prefer this "high-touch" way of doing business.

So, call someone you haven't talked to in a while and ask how they're doing, share something about yourself, and plan to get together face-to-face.

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