There’s part of me that really likes networking events and part of me that detests them with a passion. Now don’t get me wrong, as a fledgling business and as a sole trader I get the fact that networking is an important part of business development, in fact it is one of the key activities to engage with in order to building up your business.
I also cherish opportunities to make contact with new people, exploring differences and similarities and creating opportunities; and I do really enjoy the discussions especially the discursive element of these events.
What really annoys me are those who readily embrace the predatory nature of networking. What brought this to my mind is a recent event that I attended. I was a “newbie”, a first time attendee and I arrived 20 or so minutes after the start. I was given my badge to wear which I pinned on my left breast pocket of my shirt, grabbed a coffee and then made my way to a table and had a great conversation with someone involved in “creative marketing” (naively I though all marketing had a creative element to it). We chatted about science, Higher Education, business opportunities, our experiences of networking and ways to get our business ideas out there.
What amused me, though was the people who were supposedly “working the room”. It might sound strange, (and this is the best metaphor I can come up with) ,I felt as though I was in a large aquarium where shoals of fish were quietly circulating, forming casual groupings and generally “floating together” creating social gatherings. However, also in this aquarium were predatory sharks gliding past, silently weighing up the situation looking to suddenly create mayhem and havoc by barging into the middle, targeting their prey.
It was the lack of eye contact that got to me the most. Some people were going around staring at people’s chests with their gaze moving from chest to chest. They were not engaging with people on a social level making eye contact or smiling. They were looking at the badges, at the job titles and company names and using these two pieces of information to judge whether it was worthwhile spending precious time talking to these individuals. Would there be a net gain if time was invested in talking to these people or would it be precious time wasted?
“You’re an accountant, no interest; a marketeer, no interest; ah-ha, an IT person there’s a possibility. Let’s look at another badge. Let’s circle the room again and make a second pass. There’s something interesting, I’ll swim into the middle of the group and corner my prey, causing mayhem whilst I do”. Then it is all me, me, me; and sell, sell, sell!
I know I sound cynical and I am not criticising the organisers of networking events or the events themselves, I am just a little bemused by some of those who attend. Am I naive to assume that every conversation at these events is worthwhile, you always find a gem of information in every interaction. It is about being interested in others, what they do, how they got to do what they do and what they want to do going forward. It is not all about selling business to business; it is about connections and through these connections there maybe opportunities for collaboration. After all, at these events it tends to be small business and sole-traders like my self. I am not looking to sell for further self-interests, I am looking to give and receive support, empathy and advice and I am looking for good craic early in the morning. I am looking to float gently around with my fellow fishes in the aquarium and not to be worried about the predatory sharks.