Networking Pre-search and Planning

So many events, so little time. I understand exactly how this overload happens. Get a room full of enthusiastic people together around a cause, and the topic eventually trends toward throwing an event. But enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily translate into a good event worthy of your time and energy.

Good events have the elements of learning, clearly communicated objectives, schedule of events (SOE), logistics, communications and follow-up all sussed out. It’s up to you, as the event-goer, to discern if it’s an event that aligns with your personal and professional networking strategies and goals. This process is called pre-search.

Fanaticon Event Brought Brands Together to Talk Fans

Fanaticon Event Brought Brands Together to Talk Fans

For the purposes of this exploration, I’m focusing on business seminars and events with formats based on learning and networking in a professional environment. I’ve already reviewed networking effectiveness (a checklist of what to look for before rsvp’ing), networking formats and networking timeframes in previous posts. Now I’m getting more in-depth on the pre-search portion.


When doing pre-search on an event, consider the host and partners involved, the event format, attendee make-up and your networking goals.

Event Host
Are you familiar with the hosting and partner organizations? If not, check them out online. If there are speakers, check them out too. Do you have people in your network that are connected to the host, partners or participants in some way? Ideally, someone you know in your network might recommend the event and give you a little insight on the format and the audience you’ll find there. It’s worth asking if you’re unsure.

Event Format
What’s the schedule of events? Is there time for intentionally networking before or after a learning program or is it solely to network? Is it an annual or celebratory event, focused on learning or a format tried and true that’s on a more frequent basis, like a monthly event? This will give you cues on what you can expect and plan for during the event.

Event Audience
Who is likely to be there? Are these the type of connections that would be beneficial to you personally or professionally? Do you want to re-establish your existing network or broaden it? Generally speaking, a balance of both is healthy.

Your Goal
What’s your goal in attending the event? Are you there to meet people who can help you find a job or work? Are you there to sell your services at a business to consumer level or business to business level? Or maybe you want to learn from others to educate yourself on a new topic or gain new skill sets?

WLIT Panel Brought Women in Tech Together to Talk Fearlessness

WLIT Panel Brought Women in Tech Together to Talk Fearlessness


At a very top-level, you can do this pre-search for events as they arise, but making a more concerted effort to pair your business networking goals, like on a monthly basis, with events tends to make you more intentional and deliberate in your efforts. And remember, you also need to build in time for follow-up!

Understanding the how and why of building your network will help you select the events most worth your time. It will also help you go into events with realistic expectations, read the tone of the room and determine how you go about networking and follow-up. Long term, it will ensure you’re balancing re-establishing and building on existing connections with time and resources to branch out to new connections.


Networking in Two and Twenty Minutes

Last week I attended two events focused on networking: Speed Networking and The Unraveled Network. Two completely different experiences in interaction — one allowing two minutes per conversation and the other setting the stage for a 20 minute conversation.

Speed Networking at it's Fastest

Speed Networking, hosted by YPOTC (The Young Professionals of the Twin Cities) on November 5th at the Copper Hen Cakery in the gorgeous newly renovated building at 2515 Nicollet near the Bad Waitress and IceHouse, was definitely an experiment in maximizing the number of people you meet. The Unraveled Network, hosted by Pollen Midwest on November 6th at the Weisman Art Museum (read the recap here), was more about how to network and discovery through audience survey feedback to find out what’s at the core of a great networker.

For Fast-Talkers and Brief Conversation

The speed-networking format in and of itself is intentionally designed to force people into conversations. At two minutes per meeting for each of the 30 people in attendance, it might be deemed as efficient, but I found it to be a whirlwind of disconnect.

By the event’s end I was tired of hearing my one-minute elevator pitch. I walked away with 20 some business cards and a follow-up list. I diligently followed up with most by LinkingIn with them, which is pretty minimal on my part. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a roomful of energy and excitement and good potential connections. It just wasn’t a format that allowed me to fully understand what the other person had to offer.

For Learning and In-depth Discussion

Pollenites BuzzingThe research-oriented networking event, The Unraveled Network, continues to intrigue me. Keynote speaker Marcia Ballinger, author of 20 Minute Networking Meeting, had the learning component covered. Pop-up speakers brought additional context surrounding networking. And our online presence and social content and interests informed the organizer’s placement of attendees in tables of eight people, guaranteed to have some sixth-degree connection yet to be discovered.

I found this to be more aligned with what I look for in an event. Within the context initiated by the presenters, our table was able to have a more focused discussion in 20-30 minutes around the topic (networking). The conversation starters placed at our tables (two different questions per eight people), allowed us to find some common ground among our diverse careers and expertise. I followed up with the connections I made at this event by LinkingIn, connecting on other social channels and sending a few emails to new connections that I want to further explore.

Format Comparison 

An effective networker can work any crowd — whether it’s a two or 20 minute conversation. Obviously there are many more event formats to explore as they relate to networking (YPOTC has several other formats like happy hours). It’s really about researching the event format, knowing the audience, setting your expectations appropriately, expressing interest in others and finally… the follow-up. All of which fall into the broad idea of networking best practices that I plan to cover in future blog posts. In the meantime, I’d like to know, What events have you been to lately that were very worthwhile and not-so worthwhile networking-wise, for whatever reason?

Networking is the New Leadership

We’ve been defining leadership and what makes great leaders for 75 years. But networking? Well… that’s a little nebulous. What makes a great networker? What are the top five things they do and don’t do? How much time does it take to do networking right?

Keynote Marcia BallingerThe Unraveled Network, hosted by Pollen Midwest on November 6th at the Weisman Art Museum, got to the heart of this challenge. Their aim? To delve into the concept of networking through research and behavior to uncover what’s at the core of a great networker then share that learning with aspiring networkers.

Efficiency, Etiquette and Ownership

Keynote speaker Marcia Ballinger, author of 20 Minute Networking Meeting, and Pollen co-founder Jamie Millard kicked it off with a networking etiquette and strategy Q&A. They covered efficiency, etiquette and ownership with scenarios like someone the phone card, not the coffee card (it’s okay!), setting expectations with a beginning and end time for meetings (20 minutes is all that is needed!) and coming prepared with an agenda that highlights connections and brings value to both parties.

PopUp Speaker PointsPop-Up Presenters

The event continued by building on Marcia’s message with pop-up speakers. I love this concept. In a room full of 200-some people, everyone may want to talk to the main speaker(s) that delivered the message. Sometimes that isn’t possible. The pop-up style presented four speakers’ expanding views on networking in brief 2-3 minute format.

They were diverse and made very memorable points like Levi Weinhagen, Co-Founder of Comedy Suitcase, who suggested people ask mentors about their most challenging tasks and Pahoua Hoffman, Policy Director of Citizen’s League, who encouraged people to find the humanness in networking. She likened her networking approach to making friends rather than networking as a necessary evil solely for career gain.

Pollen Program + Connect CardIntentional Ice-Breakers

The match-up for attendee seating assignments (8 per table) was intentionally aligned by the event planners. The methodology (think LinkedIn and online search) is a secret, but even before that was revealed some of us discovered how we were connected just through the natural course of conversation.

The more orchestrated ice-breaking technique for the event began with a 3×4 card designed with a simple question about our daily routine and a specific networking question for each person to answer. When shared around the table, the answers brought insight into personality and networking style, strategies and tactics which stemmed further discussion.

On the flip side of the card there was a “connect card” — a business card to the plus — where you could check the variety of ways you’d like to connect including email, social channels and going to an event together. We couldn’t select just one person to give our one connect card to, so we all exchanged business cards.

Part 1: Recap

For part one in a series of two (to be continued on January 28 from 7:30-10a.m.), this event had the educational component, interactivity in subject matter (all attendees completed a 35 minute survey on their networking habits) and meaningful connections dialed in. I’m looking forward to building on the connections I made at the event and Pollen’s assessment of feedback (in collaboration with the Carlson School of Management) yet to come during Part 2.

The New Leadership

Networking is the new leadership. As a communications person who attends a lot of events and event planner driven by research and behaviors, I can’t help but be drawn to discovering networking best practices. Some subscribe to the theory that the more people you meet the more opportunities you have to make connections that translate into career value. But it’s not necessarily about quantity, it’s about quality… and time, resources and value for your personal life and career.

Fellow Pollenites: Did you find value in this event? Networkers: What value do you give and receive through networking? What do you love and hate about it?