August 12, 2010

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Networking events

It’s my birthday, yay! (Happy birthday, Mom!) But I’m away at training, so the annual review + sketches will have to wait for the weekend. In the meantime, here’s something I was thinking about the other day…

I confess: I don’t go to “networking events” to meet people.

I go to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. I go to share and pick up tips and ideas. I go to practise avoiding the name/rank/serial number conversations (and in my small way, perhaps show people there is an alternative). I go to have fun connecting the dots. I go to work on remembering names and little details.

I’m not there to find a new job. I have an awesome one. I’m not there to find new friends. If the seeds of friendships are planted there, terrific. The real work happens outside the event, after all.

I’m there to learn from the conversations that people have with people other than me. It’s one of the reasons why I like having a group of friends over instead of talking to them one-on-one. Other people bring out different aspects of people that I wouldn’t see on my own.

What do I hope for? I hope that I can collapse the distance between people. I hope that I can share people and ideas and resources outside the event. I hope that a chance conversation might turn into a weak tie, and a month or several years down the road, into another connect-the-dots experience, another aha!, or another friendship.

So I seldom go to or organize networking events per se. I like going to events with a bigger purpose. DemoCamp, with its promise of interesting startups and ideas. Tea, an excuse for me to prepare treats and create a space for conversation. Conferences. IBM speed mentoring events in Second Life. (Yes, we have them, and they’re lots of fun.) Your typical stand-up-and-meet-people? Sometimes they’re the starting point of interesting conversations and reflections, like the ones I had with Neal Schaffer around sharing and with Judy Gombita about introductions. Sometimes they require lots of digging to get past the surface conversations.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve crossed some kind of tipping point, where the scale effects of the Internet tend to work more for me than the hallway conversations and chance connections of real-life events. (Are search engine results like those serendipitous encounters, except longer-lasting?) I prefer writing and commenting and tweeting over speaking over the din; we reach more people, blossom into more conversations. I could be missing out on subtleties, which is why I go to events from time to time–to see and experience and reflect. But the world stretches before us, and why limit myself to this corner when we could enable aha!s all over?

/Thanks to Dennie Theodore for blogging about large events and nudging me to think about them!/

2010-07-30 Fri 07:40