When it Comes to Networking, Here’s How to Decide Where to be

Congratulations!  You understand why networking is important and you’ve built an unforgettable elevator pitch. Now you might be asking, “Where should I be?” No matter the story you’re telling – of yourself, your company, or your business idea – time is your most valuable resource. Thinking about content versus connection will help you decide where to spend it.

So what do I mean by content versus connection? The next time a networking event invitation lands in your inbox, consider the following to decide if you should attend:

Content

Think about the topic being covered, your interest in it and whether or not it’s information you need to learn. Ask yourself: Do I want to learn more about this topic? Is it something that will help me in my career? Am I genuinely interested in what the presenter or panel has to say?

For example, if you’re new in your career and have just started putting money into your retirement account (how fun!), you might want to attend a lunch and learn on managing your 401k. If you’ve just accepted a fundraising position with a nonprofit and there’s an opportunity to learn about giving trends in the St Louis region, you’ll probably want to show up to that event. When you consider content first, it doesn’t matter who else is attending – it’s the content that’s driving you to show up to the event.

Connection

When you view a networking event through the lens of connection, it’s all about considering what types of people will be there and how important it is for you to connect with them. Ask yourself: Do I need to know the people who might attend this? Is this group of people missing from my network? Do they need my services? Can I help them? Can they help me?

For example, if you help people write business plans, you already know most of what will be delivered at a “Business Planning 101” panel discussion, but you can bet that the people attending are people that you want to meet. If you’re looking for a job as a graphic designer, you probably know about the launch of a new design program, but don’t disregard the opportunity – there might be design firms there who are hiring! You may already know the content, but the possible connections are important as well.

deciding to attend a networking event, content vs connection

Of course, somewhere in the middle is best! It’s terrific if you can find a networking group, event or program that offers both content and connection, but discovering that perfect balance might take some work. Here are a few suggestions for testing the waters on where to spend your time:

•  Divide and conquer. Recruit a like-minded friend to partner up with you. If you each go to a few events and report back, you’ll both be better informed in half the time.
•  Examine the guest list. If an event regularly occurs, you may be able to find out who usually attends with a little sleuthing. The internet is your friend here! By locating a list of past participants or viewing photos from previous gatherings, you can better determine the audience and decide if it’s a good fit for you.
•  Try it out. Sometimes your only option is to just check it out. Commit to staying for 30 minutes – set a timer on your phone if you have to. Sticking to 30 minutes can help reduce any anxiety you may have toward meeting new people while giving you a great impression of the content and connection the event has to offer.
•  Ask around. If you’re at an event that fits your content interests and connection goals, a great way to find similar events is to ask. A simple question like, “This is a great event. Are there others like this you’ve attended?” can be really helpful.

Figuring out where to network is a bit of an art and a bit of a science. Asking yourself these content vs. connection questions will not only save you time, but also help you determine the most fruitful opportunities before you add yet another appointment on your busy calendar. And while you’re out there, leave a little mental space for serendipity…you never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll run into!

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Aimee Muirnin Dunne

Aimee is a connector of people, champion of community, and lover of coffee. She guides students, boards and networkers in telling their stories and connecting to resources through Navigating Networks, which she founded. She also works to address the startup gender gap as Senior Director of the Prosper Institute at Prosper Women Entrepreneurs.