Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but, believe it or not, millenials are excellent social networkers. We can catapult actors, bands or Target workers into stardom and whip up enough frenzy over a dancing cat video to topple a mid-sized country. But when it comes to good old-fashioned professional networking, we can be, well, a little socially awkward.
Maybe it’s because we aren’t sure of our place in the professional world yet. Maybe it’s because – like the cynics say—our generation has inadvertently lost, or never found, the art of conversation. Or maybe it’s because we don’t know what truly effective networking looks like.
Armed with strategic networking research and some common sense, we took it upon ourselves to see just how fruitful a networking event can be when done “right.” It’s our hope that this highly scientific entertaining experience will encourage our fellow millenials to step out of their offices and comfort zones, find events and share business cards with someone other than their parents. (Though we agree, no one can be more proud than Mom.)
For our experiment, we jumped at the chance to join 12th and Broad for their “Whose Card Is It Anyway?” event. Held at Emma Bistro, the event was a chance for professionals to get to know a handful of creative and professional groups in town and find further opportunities to partner with them. What better venue to try out our social experiment than at a networking event about networking?
Avery, drawing on her illustrious* theater background, was cast as the hapless young professional. She represents the “what NOT to do’s” when working a room (or attempting to).
Alex played the savvy go-getter, and she is our bright and shiny example of how to network with aplomb.
Here’s how it went.
Most professional events have networking time built into the schedule for attendees to mix and mingle without disrupting a speaker or missing an activity. For this event, the networking happy hour started at 6:00 and included a quirky game of BINGO to help break the ice. Guests were encouraged to find other awesome individuals that fit the descriptions written in the boxes and have them sign their names. A BINGO winner was drawn for a door prize later in the evening.
Alex showed up when the networking hour started, giving her plenty of time to meet with everyone, get a lay of the land and talk with organization representatives. Her early arrival also gave her a killer head start on filling out her BINGO card.
Avery showed up 5 minutes before the speakers began. This option can seem appealing so you don’t look like the nerd who shows up early or you are saved from having to start up conversations with people you don’t know. Oh wait, that’s what networking is all about. So not only did she have less time to meet people, she also didn’t get to talk with organizations prior to the event starting. And with speakers gearing up right when she walked in, she was limited to chatting with folks in her immediate vicinity.
Business Card Supplies
Alex, like any go-getter, came with a fat stack of business cards. No matter whom she talked with or how meaningful their conversation was, she passed out her info so they could easily reconnect and continue the conversation.
Avery had one crumpled card that she fished out of her wallet. Hardly the way you want to present yourself or the company you work for. And, when the opportunity to exchange business cards arose, all she could do was take their card and give an apologetic shrug in return.
The Elevator Pitch
Networking 101: Know who you are and what you do. When asked what she did, Alex had a concise and confident answer (thanks to the combo of our company having discussed elevator pitches previously and former Bradford intern Ethan Willing creating this video). She picked a main point or two about what the Bradford Group does and then kept the conversation going by returning the question to her newfound friend.
When faced with the same question, Avery fumbled with words like “thought leadership” and “digital strategy.” She mentioned public relations, our location on 5th and Main, the demographic of the office and maybe even a little about our Beer Friday tradition. In true “what not to do” fashion, she ignored social cues and rambled.
Avery took the back seat approach. Standing by herself near the back, she stood with her phone frequently out and waited for someone to approach her. As you can guess, this wasn’t very successful. Her standoffish manner and disconnected interest didn’t elicit much interaction. However, due to her proximity to the food, she did join in a few conversations. (TIP: If you stand by the food, they will come.)
Alex, armed with a friendly smile and approachable confidence, worked the room. Starting conversations (and sometimes joining ones that were already going), she
worked fervently to fill-out her icebreaker BINGO card and spark interesting connections.
The end result? The first-ever social experiment conducted by TBG groupies was a SUCCESS!
Alex, with her work-the-room attitude, walked away with eight new business cards, three new LinkedIn connections, two local organizations she wants to partner with and a potential lead on a new hire for the Bradford Group.
Avery, playing the shy young professional, left the event with few meaningful connections and no desire of ever returning to another networking event. We’re kidding. Avery left ready to pass along her research.
Our conclusion is that it’s high time for us (read: millenials) to go to events, put down our phones and engage with people we don’t know, and then pick up our phones again for some social networking.
Connecting with professional peers isn’t hard when you come prepared with a great attitude and a little bit of charm. Monday’s event gave us a chance to meet people that live in our neighborhoods, work in similar industries and have the same love of trashy television and tacos. (Thanks, for filling out our BINGO boxes, guys!)
So, now it’s your turn. We’ve jumped into the fine world of networking and now we want you to join us! Are you hosting an event in town? Know of any must-attend professional parties? Add a comment below and let us know! We’d love to connect with you out on the town, and we BOTH promise to bring business cards, a great attitude and our BINGO A-game.
*Avery starred as “Ursula” in her kindergarten’s production of The Little Mermaid. Reviewers praised her artful lipstick application and complete disregard for stage directions.