For every person who claims that networking events are a critical tool for building career and business success, you’ll find another 5 who claim they’re totally worthless. So, which is it? Are networking events worth it? Or are they just a thing we do because we’re told to, not because they actually lead to any tangible results?
Sadly, there’s no easy answer to this one. Some networking events are absolutely worth the investment of time and resources, while others are, indeed, a complete and utter waste. Knowing how to tell the difference is the key. You probably can’t avoid all bad networking events, but you can certainly do your due diligence to identify the ones with the most potential. Here are some questions to ask to help you figure out: Are networking events worth it?
Who Is Putting on the Event?
The organization hosting the event will have a major impact on how it is run, who will attend, and, ultimately, how beneficial it will be for you as an attendee. For example, an event put on by a local chapter of the professional association for your field should attract the right kind of people, professionally speaking. But if that group isn’t well-known in your area, or if they have a bad reputation, their events will likely reflect that.
If and when you find yourself at an event that doesn’t meet your standards, take note of the organizer. You’ll want to avoid their events in the future.
How Many People Are Attending?
When it comes to attendance, there’s a sweet spot. If you have too many people, it can be hard to find the ones you really care most about connecting with. Too few and it just feels awkward. You want a networking event that is big enough to attract a nice size group of your “ideal” contacts, but not so big that you can’t find them when you’re there.
To get a feel for the attendance numbers, you can monitor the event webpage (especially if it’s listed on something like Meetup.com or Eventbrite. Some will include a list of people who have RSVP’d or bought tickets, while others will have reviews from attendees of past events. You can even call the event organizer and ask for an estimated number of attendees as well. Your best bet, however, is to ask someone who has attended this same event (or a similar one) in the past.
Who Are the People Attending?
Aside from the number of people, you also want to know the type of people who will be attending. Before that, of course, you need to know what type of person you’re interested in connecting with. Do you want to meet people in your own field or people in a field you’re hoping to transition to? Do you want to meet small business owners and corporate leaders, or are you looking to meet entry-level folks you can recruit to your team? Understanding your goals is truly step number one.
Then, once you know your ideal contact, you need to identify networking events where they are likely to be. In most cases, you’ll want to avoid events that are open to the general public, as they are likely to attract a mishmash of people with no guarantee that any portion will match your target. Instead, focus on events that are limited to a certain group (for example, association members, people in a specific field or industry, etc.). That way, you can feel relatively confident that the people attending will be at least somewhat aligned with what you’re looking for.
Also, consider whether or not there’s a fee required for attending the event. While free events attract more people, they tend to be less committed to the goal of networking. Too often, free events just turn into parties where very little networking is happening. When people have to pay a small entrance fee, they take it more seriously.
What Are the Goals of the Event?
Networking events are often promoted as just that; the goal is to mix, mingle, and meet new people. However, it can be difficult to strike up meaningful conversation at such events. Often, it’s little more than a business card exchange over cocktails.
Conversely, networking events that are geared toward other goals often lead to better connections. For example, educational events can be great forums for networking. A dynamic speaker presents an idea that is relevant to your field or industry, after which the audience gets a chance to connect and share their own perspectives and experiences. This is a far more effective (and comfortable!) form of networking for most people.
Even events that are geared toward non-professional goals can be useful for networking. For example, charitable activities where people are coming together to do good for their community, or spiritual activities where people are connecting over a shared value system, are both great ways to build new personal and professional relationships.
How Are You Approaching the Event?
Finally, it’s worthwhile acknowledging that the event itself is not the only factor to consider. As you’re wondering, “Are networking events worth it?”, you also want to pay attention to your own mindset going into the event. What you bring to the table can play a pivotal role in the perceived “success” or “failure” of the activity.
Remember that networking is all about quality, not quantity. It’s better to make a small handful of authentic connections that match your ideal contact, than it is to meet hundreds of people who aren’t what you’re looking for.
Approach all of your networking activities with a positive outlook and an open mind. Recognize that they won’t all be winners, but keep trying. They can all provide valuable lessons regarding what to look for in the future.
So, the next time you’re wondering, “Are networking events worth it?” ask these questions to find your answer.