Office function? First Meetup? Water cooler or elevator encounter with random professional human?
So…. some crazy person decided it’d be fun to up-size the WellyTech end-of-year drinks. The last couple of years it’s happened like this at the Hop Garden or the Biz Dojo’s event space. This year, “let’s fill the cake tin” they said!!!
And so, 1,000 tech-minded folk will connect and celebrate the close of 2017, the start of summer, and connect with their fellow industry colleagues & peers this evening. Yikes.
This strange end-of-year business ritual is happening up and down the country right now, so this a good time to reassess how you’re going to approach group conversations – and how to avoid the awkward small talk that sometimes comes with it.
image from SoT Wellington Meet & Greet 2017: students chatting with Xero team.
Why should I do this???
Fun. Career development. Learning. Community. A recent Twitter poll by @saniac revealed almost 60% of respondees were hired into their current job through a personal contact. While 150 or so of Mr Salteena’s twitter followers are a small sample, they’re mostly well-established NZ IT career people. Word of mouth and the hidden job market is a real thing in NZ, with a ridiculous percentage of roles never advertised. If it’s “who you know” that gets you closer to your next exciting role, then networking events are a great way to expand “who you know”.
It’s never a bad thing to have more friendly colleagues! Being open, friendly and kind may pay off further down the track.
Before you launch yourself into a professional event (even if it’s got the word “party” in the invite, if you’re with work colleagues, this is a PROFESSIONAL event!!), it’s handy to have an idea of what you’d like to get out of it. There’s some team events that involve less obviously professional networking activities, from a day at the races to nerf-guns to go-kart-racing to … who knows what. Have fun. But remember, even if the activities appear to resemble fun times with your friends, this is actually fun times with your colleagues, so the networking advice below still stands!
Check out Victoria MacLennan & Charlotte Hinton’s 10 tips for a great networking experience over here, but in summary, here’s 4 types of networking opportunities that might explain the “WHY BOTHER” argument:
Personal Brand Development
Establishing Contacts and a Community
Career Development and Finding your next Role
How do I do this???
To start with, a group of professional people coming together to celebrate and “socialise” means different things for different people. Some may relish the idea of a crowd, others may prefer to linger by the nibbles or find a quiet nook. Or avoid the situation completely. Whatever your personality, we’ve come up with some awesome ways for you to make the most of #WellyTechXmas, and other professional networking opportunities you may encounter:
We’ve designed an ice-breaker game for newbies/terrible conversationalists/interns/people who hate small-talk/people who love small-talk. It’s called #WellyTechBingo! Our team has come up with a mix of tech- & non-tech fun questions to help break the ice and get stuck into some interesting talks. If you’re competitive we’ve got you covered too – with fun prizes to give away for those who complete their bingo card.
If you’re not at an event with a structured “connect with people you don’t know” event, then it’s up to you to take a deep breath and say “hi” to someone. Usually, people are happy enough to talk about what they’re working on, what they think about the event, the speaker, etc, but it might help you to prepare your thoughts about potential topics of conversation.
Panic. If you don’t like networking, you’re not alone. It’s not compulsory, but if you’re feeling like you can give it a go, here’s some ideas: you could go with a friend so you can support each other. Practice your intro – who are you? what do you do? what are you working on? Prepare some icebreaker topics, and some questions you’d like answered.
Talk about politics. Or religion. Or any other potentially controversial topic. These are not your friends for life, these are professional people, you don’t know their beliefs or backgrounds, and you don’t want to inadvertently offend someone.
Drink too much. This is a work event, you want your professional colleagues (or future colleagues) to respect you at work tomorrow. You can have fun without the beersies.
Waste people’s time. If the conversation dries up or they’re giving cues that they’re busy or need to move on, or looking over your shoulder, that’s your cue to say thanks, nice to meet you, and make an elegant exit.
Over-stretch. If you have life/family/other commitments that means that evenings/lunchtimes/weekends/out-of-hours is tricky for you, that’s ok. You don’t have to attend these things. You can build your professional network during work hours. If the agenda or activity proposed doesn’t sound fun or accessible to you, you don’t have to go. Have a chat with your manager/mentor/trusted colleague about your conflicting commitments or reservations. They should find ways to support you or suggest alternative approaches. If they don’t, it might be worth having a chat to a like-minded person outside of your organisation as a sounding-board to help you decide what level or approach to professional networking is good for you.
Research who’ll be there, think about your goals, think about what YOU can do for THEM.
Prepare your intro. This could be a great opportunity to meet others inside and outside your field of expertise. Victoria also recommended you plan how to introduce yourself – like a personal elevator pitch. Make it relevant to your career and passions, and easy to get out! For example…
Hello I’m Vic and I am passionate about raising Digital Literacy in New Zealand
Prepare some ice-breakers. She also recommends to have a few conversation starters up your sleeve – which we agree with and encourage! Here’s some:
How are you? What brings you here? What are you working on? Who do you know here?
Plan your exit. If you’re feeling trapped or possibly a little bored, don’t forget to have exit options up your sleeve! Victoria mentioned a great tip of keeping an eye on a ‘safe person’ during the evening – a friend or trusted colleague. This way you can excuse yourself with purpose – if you’ve lost them in the crowd, food, drink or bathroom break are other safe options.
Don’t just stick to who you already know. Try the “pacman” approach to conversation circles. Groups with a “U” shape (a gap, rather than an “O” shape with no gaps between people) are easier to join! if you’re in a group of people, leave a gap for a new person to join! If a new person looks like they want to join your conversation, make them welcome! Introduce yourself. Social events are not the place for deep & meaningful private conversations. If you meet an awesome new contact, make sure you get their contact details and make time during work hours to follow up. Keep it light, welcome newbies, keep the conversation moving if you can!
(more tips like this to help master the awkward networking waltz can be found in this excellent Fast Company blog, here)