By Julie Williams, APR, MS
When I attend an event, I don’t go with the intention of networking (even at “networking” events). I go for professional development. Networking is a byproduct.
There are so many ways to grow professionally through events: new connections to people, learning new things, job hunting, exploring a field or prospecting for new clients.
Unfortunately, more often than not, you leave an event feeling unsatisfied or discouraged. Was that worth two hours of my week? I paid how much and got all dressed up for that? Why wasn’t I heard? Why did I go?
Ring a bell?
This could be because you lacked a reason for attending the event. Unless it’s mandated by work, attendance is usually voluntary. The difference between worthwhile and worthless lies in a simple question: What do I want?
There are many chances to ask this question. Even as you’re parking your car near the venue 10 minutes after the event started. All it takes is pausing, taking a deep breath and asking (perhaps even out loud): what do I (really) want?
Here are some potential answers:
The least effective time to ask this question: on your drive home.
After assessing what you want, there is a follow up question: Is this event relevant to what I want?
Part of having a purpose is being intentional about how you show up–bringing the right tools, not just the right mindset. That is, whatever you’ve determined is right for you. That way you know what to focus on throughout an event.
For example, if your purpose is learning, then you might dress in more comfortable attire, have a notebook and pen handy and forgo food to keep your hands free for note taking.
Consider these questions in preparation for the next event you attend:
“What do I want?” is not about having an agenda, it’s about setting an intention and staying centered on that intention through all of your choices. For example, when I see someone “suited up” at an event I perceive that they’re looking for new opportunities or that they’re bringing their ‘A’-game.
Knowing your purpose helps you stay on course in your conversations. It helps others understand what’s of interest to you and perhaps how they can help you.
Did you notice how many of the “I want” answers above emphasize open-minded learning and discovery? These are the key ingredients for professional development and also often lead to an interconnected community of people and things.
Let the event organizers worry about the event’s agenda. Your mission: show up, be genuine and come away with something you really wanted.
Julie Williams, APR, MS, is owner of Versatile Creative Consulting, providing strategic communications counsel to social enterprises, and a PRSA Portland Metro Chapter member since 2010. For more tips and news, follow Practical PR for Life on Facebook, find Julie on Twitter @oregonintegrity or say firstname.lastname@example.org!