There’s only one situation where grown professionals will commit to wearing plastic name badges and drinking terrible coffee out of thimble sized mugs; THE NETWORKING EVENT.
Of course every event is different, but if I were absolutely forced to create a generic timetable, it would look something like this:
8am-9am: Arrival & Breakfast
Session description: Arrive at this time if you’re really desperate to network.
Most people arrive at 8.55am, relishing the one day of the year no one is watching what time they get in and they can hit that snooze button a little longer.
However, there will be 8-10 people shuffling around, clinging to the buffet table. Usually, it’s Barry and Steve – the guys that have travelled from up North and took the 5am train because they ‘wanted to leave ample time for the tube’.
This is a good opportunity to get your first coffee of the day. It’s amazing that coffee has evolved so much, and yet, networking events have managed to avoid good coffee completely. The catering companies are laughing as they spoon ladles of Nescafe instant granules into industrial sized coffee jugs, thinking we won’t notice if it comes in filter jugs. We noticed.
Networking conversations: Two. Barry and Steve.
9am-11am: First speaker session
Session description: Open your new, free conference notebook, and write the date and the title of the session at the top of the first page.
Something about it feels like the first day of school. You sit up really straight, smile at your neighbour, and make a silent promise that this time you really will focus on the speaker sessions, not just the networking breaks….
20 minutes in you get your phone out. Tell yourself it’s just to check the time….
40 minutes later you’re still responding to emails.
Leave the session still with only the title of the session written at the top of the page.
11am-11.30am: Morning break
Session description: Right, the last session overran by 7 minutes. That means you have exactly 23 minutes to go to the loo, get your second cup of terrible coffee, and do a quick round of the room.
If you go to the loo now, the queue for biscuits will be really long when you come out. But if you go and get your coffee and Custard Cream now, you won’t enjoy it, because you’ll just need the loo. Then you won’t have anything to hold in your hand when you approach people later.
And people that approach people at conferences without a mug and biscuit as a prop, look a bit creepy. Everyone knows the secret code of networking events. Pretend that you are NOT there to count how many ‘useful conversations’ you had. Pretend you are just eating a casual biscuit and happened to catch their eye. Both parties know that this is not true, but flouting the convention and admitting you are there to network is embarrassing for everybody.
Eventually decide to go to the loo first. See that Barry (from Barry and Steve) is in the queue. Take a quick detour to pretend to read a couple of wall poster adverts, as you avoid eye contact. By the time you get back to the main hall, you just have time to inhale a cup of coffee, which is now making your mouth feel like mud pie, as you are herded into the next seminar. Which is probably about social media.
Networking conversations: 1 awkward encounter in the biscuit queue and one near encounter in the toilet.
12pm-1.30pm: Second Speaker Session
Session description: Every conference has a session on ‘optimizing social media’. The ‘fun session’.
You have your pad out again and you’re really proud that you have paid attention so far. You’ve even written notes. Something the speaker says serves as a useful prompt that you need to update your LinkedIn profile….
Take your phone out, just to set a reminder….
60 minutes later…
You realise you’ve fallen down a social media rabbit hole, and you’ve just laughed out loud reading BuzzFeed’s ‘29 things only girls that went to school in the 90’s will understand’.
Sheepishly, you put your phone away. Remember that you did in fact take some notes at the beginning of the session.
Look down at notepad. See that you’ve written ‘Social Media is really important’, and underlined it three times.
Session description: Hooray. Lunch!
The second best time at a conference. Second only to the part when the alcohol comes out, lunch is the networking opportunity that you can pretend serves a real purpose, other than networking.
It’s also a great opportunity for shy people to have somewhere to look and something to do with their hands, which leaves the coast clear for the boldest networkers to start charging into conversations. However, beware.
At this point in the day it is still only ok to open a conversation with the premise that you are talking about lunch. (A good example is: “Lovely spread isn’t it? I remember when these events were all about finger sandwiches and stale biscuits. But look! Couscous!”) Opening with work related intros at this point of the day is still strictly frowned upon. I mean, come on, I’m eating couscous here!
The last 30 minutes of lunch drags. You’ve drunk 2 more cups of coffee you didn’t want just to look busy. You might have an out of body experience during this part of the day. You see yourself standing uncomfortably in a room, with a bunch of people you don’t know, all nodding their heads to the background music.
This is probably what it feels like to go to a bar sober.
You start panicking about the meaning of life and the real reason for existence. Actually feel relieved when they announce the final session.
Networking conversations: Managed 4, but 3 of them turned out to be guys from Linked In trying to sell you recruiter licenses.
3pm-5pm: Final speaker session:
Session description: Luckily you don’t need to pretend to listen anymore. Despite the fact that you’ve had 5 cups of coffee so far today, you’re feeling remarkably sleepy.
You don’t even get your notepad out this time.
Whatsapp a couple of your friends because you suddenly realise you could officially finish work at 5.30pm today without anyone noticing and shouting “half day?!” at you as you put your coat on. Plus you’re never usually in this part of town, and if you can sneak in a cheeky pint with Dean, who works round here, you won’t have to get the tube back over here next time for no reason.
Email your boss to tell him what an amazing networking opportunity this has been, and how many ‘useful conversations’ you’ve had.
Session description: Finally! The bit you came for.
Dean still hasn’t replied about meeting for a beer, but you can see on Whatsapp that he hasn’t read it, so decide to hang around for a drink to kill time until he does.
2 drinks later: This networking malarkey isn’t actually half bad is it? Got 2 business cards from potential clients, and one potential date.
2 more drinks later: HA HA! Smoking! The best way to meet people ever. Who knew? Everyone is standing around on their own, and asking for a light is the perfect conversation starter. Why did I ever give up? Stopping smoking is a career limiting decisions. Mental note to take smoking back up. Dean texts and said he can meet at 6.30pm. Wait… it’s still only 6pm?!
2 more drinks later: Damn, it’s 7pm and you forgot to meet Dean. You’ve 2 missed calls from him. But you’re right in the middle of closing a deal. You think…. Are you? Wait. Which business card was theirs again? Drain your bottle and rush off without your coat.
Networking conversations: 17? 18? Maybe even 19 if the potential date counts.
Does it matter?
You can’t remember any of their names and you left the whole handful of business cards on the last tube anyway.
By Amy Golding, Founder of Recruitment Entrepreneur. For more information about starting your own recruitment company visit www.recruitmententrepreneur.com
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