Monday, May 18, 2009

My Favorite Networking Groups

As I've begun my search for a new position, I've increased my attendance of local networking groups. In that process I noticed a few things.

Quite a lot of folks who attend networking groups aim to make new connections through whom they wish to find their next position, opportunity, or sales lead. They each offer their own help for that purpose. I'd always found this symbiotic relationship interesting, but one that often leads to only cordial relationships.

My goal when attending a networking group is no different than when I start a new work relationship: I aim to make friends and invest in their professional growth through mentoring, advising, or simply listening. My reward, whether in personal or professional settings, comes from knowing that I've somehow helped a fellow human being reach their potential. This is far more rewarding than finding my next employer.

With that said, I know this is what I want out of networking, not necessarily what you do. We each aim to gain something different from our encounters. In fact, I'm a firm believer that what you want closely ties with your personality type and how you feed your strengths and weaknesses.

It's with this preface that I list below some organizations and groups I attend for the purpose of meeting new professionals:
  1. CafeNet
    Founder: Cindy Pickens

    Schedule: Every other week on Wednesdays

    Location: Anounced to members via monthly email

    Membership: By Invitation attendance. Requires sponsorship by an existing member and an Interview with Cindy Pickens

    Website: Yahoo Groups site with membership-only access

    Description: Cindy started this organization as a result of her search for a new position. It began in a coffee shop with a handful of friends. She now has in excess of 50 regular attendees. The group is limited to CxOs to Directors and Managers that understand what it means to cultivate a relationship.

    Format: Meetings start with Cindy describing the history and purpose of the group for the newcomers. This is followed by each attendee giving their 30 to 60 second elevator pitch. Given the meeting time limit, each person's pitch is tracked by a time-keeper. At the end of the elevator speech, a guest speaker presents a career-search related topic, such as how to use LinkedIn or how to improve your body language.

  2. TechBiz Connect
    Founder: Jack Bicer

    Schedule: Third Wednesday Each Month from 6 PM - 9 PM

    Location: Knobbe Martens in Irvine, CA

    Membership: None

    Website: http://www.techbizconnection.org/

    Description: Per TBC's home page, it "is a non-profit professional trade association that organizes monthly events helping Southern California executives, technology professionals and entrepreneurs to more effectively network, and to learn about key technology and management trends that affect business performance."

    Format: Buffet-style meals and snacks are available before the formal meeting begins. You can start open-networking during this time. The first formal section of the meeting is the organized networking where you're assigned to groups and asked to pitch your elevator speech along with a memorable statement about yourself like, "My name is John and I'm the botanist CIO" to a roundtable group of eight or more people. You may be asked to rotate between two to three networking roundtables during this part of the meeting. Later, a panel discusses the subject of the night which is often related to technology, during which you can ask questions or provide your view of the answers given.

  3. Toastmasters International
    Founder: Ralph C. Smedley

    Schedule: Depends on the club you choose. Schedules vary from early morning to noon and evenings. The meetings typically last 1.5 to 2 hours.

    Location: Depends on the club you choose. They are a worldwide organization

    Membership: Approximately $45 every 6-months, depending on the club

    Website: http://www.toastmasters.org/

    Description: Toastmasters International is "a world leader in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience." This is done through organized meetings that teach you how to lead a group through discussions, provide impromptu speaking opportunities, as well as prepared speeches. You may wonder why I chose to include this group here. The intent of this group isn't networking, but it provides you with opportunities to both practice speaking, a necessary skill for networking, as well as speak with some great people who are mostly employed and always eager to help you grow.

    Format: Each club has a slightly different flavor of this, but the general format is one where an MC (the Toastmaster for the day), starts the meeting and announces each person that'll fill some functionary role for the day. The impromptu speeches follow this when the leader for the segment, the Table Topics Master, introduces the theme or subject of the day, along with the word of the day. Table Topics Master then asks individual members, not necessarily guests, a question on the topic. The member called upon then has one to two minutes to answer or side-track on answering the question. Following this segment, two to three members provide prepared speeches based on Toastmasters International speaking manual topics. Each speech is then evaluated by a member. In the last segment of the meeting, after everyone has cast a vote for best Table Topics speech, prepared speech, and evaluator, the Table Topics Master awards a ribbon for each category. Givne the group makes every effort to insure your success, each member is assigned a mentor that's often an experienced Toastmaster eager to answer your questions and encourage your continued participation.

I'll likely add more groups to this list as the days and month progress. You can certainly attend other local groups, such as Laguna Niguel Connectors that meets in Laguna Niguel, CA monthly. What I've found is that an increase in attending various networking groups means you get to see some of the same people repeatedly. So, the meetings may take away time that you should spend meeting with individuals and creating a deeper relationship with each person.

So, I wish you good luck in your networking. Please feel free to share your thoughts on the above positing as well as other worthwhile networking groups that may provide something of great value.