Six Takeaways from a Virtual Conference Weekend

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Three days. Two virtual conferences. One head spinning with ideas.

That essentially sums up the recent weekend’s activities.

Imagine sitting in front of a laptop screen for three consecutive days attending online workshops, keynote presentations and education sessions. It was wall-to-wall education. By the end of three days, my head was throbbing with so many ideas, and my to-do list became as long as Merlin’s beard.

Virtual meetings have come a long way since the very first virtual set-up by AT&T in 1964. At that time, it was one closed-circuit TV screen connected to another in a different location. After the explosion of the Internet in the early 1990s, it was only a matter of time before the first virtual trade show was held in 1993. 

Then in the late 2000s, virtual conferences became more popular as the recession hit and companies looked for cost-effective ways to hold meetings for large groups of people. Today’s platforms are more sophisticated, allowing people from all over the world to gather in one virtual meeting place to listen to keynote speeches, attend online networking events, and meet one-on-one with clients or entire teams. There are more software and platforms available for online meetings than ever before.

AS the pandemic hit this spring, even more companies jumped on board, converting their in-person trade shows to the online platform, including Spring Fling 2020 which I had been looking forward to attending since the beginning of the year. Would the online presentation water down the conference experience? I answered that question this past weekend.

Below are my takeaways about my experiences with virtual conferences in general. In the near future, I’ll do more specific roundups of the individual conferences I attended hosted by Freelancers Union and Spring Fling 2020 (regional event of the Romance Writers of America).

Takeaway #1: The current pandemic crisis has made technology even more vital to our familial and collegial connections. Without technology tools and event platforms like Zoom, staying in touch with friends, family, colleagues and fellow volunteers would not be possible. Many platforms are fairly easy to use, even for novice users. Still both virtual conferences had their share of tech issues. Some speakers had difficulty staying connected to the platform while others experienced drop outs of sound and/or visuals. Some platforms work better with certain browsers over others. For example, the Accelevents conference worked better with Chrome than other browsers.

Takeaway #2: If you decide to attend a virtual conference, make goals for yourself about what you want to get out of it, just as you would if you were attending it in person. However, some feature may require more effort on your part. For example, if your goal is to meet at least three new people during the event, you might need to make the extra effort to attend the networking sessions since they occur in a separate hub, and most interactions aren’t likely to be by happenstance as they might be if you were there in person.

Takeaway #3: Pace yourself. There are as many sessions and workshops to attend during a virtual conference as there are at in-person events. It’s tempting to visit every one of them. If the experience becomes overwhelming, take a time out. Keep in mind your educational goals. That said, the nice thing about virtual events is you can jump from one session to another quickly without having to get up from your seat and move to another room.

Takeaway #4: Take good notes. There may not be handouts so make sure your notes are crystal clear. Since there are so many sessions, take time to review them a day or two later to refresh your memory. Even better, write one or two summaries of the sessions you attend and post them to a blog – just like I’ve done.

Takeaway #5: Chat rooms can be fun, but they can also be a distraction. It was fun to see the ongoing conversation going on in the chat room that ran alongside the presentation. Even the speakers would get involved in a side chat. It allowed for added interactivity that you might not get in an in-person event. The live chat also allowed participants to post questions, which speakers addressed at the end of the session. Still, it was tempting to get caught up in the commentary and lose track of what speakers were talking about. Other times, it was downright annoying, much like hearing people making snarky remarks about a movie that’s showing in a theater.

Takeaway #6: You can’t replace the energy of a live event. No matter how well planned the conference organizers make the event, it still feels like something is missing from the experience. In-person events seem to have a stronger collaborative energy. You can’t help but start conversations with people around you while you’re waiting for a session to start. You don’t get that with online events – or at least I didn’t. Sure, there is an ongoing chat during the sessions, but it’s more about commenting on what the speaker is presenting. Not sure if any of those chats led to a meaningful connection with a fellow attendee, however.

By the way, if you’re interested in participating in a virtual conference, check out WordPress.com’s Growth Summit event August 11-12, 2020 in the U.S. (No, I do not work for WordPress, but thought it was an interesting and timely item to share considering my topic today.)
 
Bottom line: You get out of a virtual conference what you put into it. I’ve always been interested in the education sessions rather than networking, so that’s where I put most of my effort. But if your goal is expanding your network, there are plenty of people to connect with at these virtual conferences.

With the end of COVID-19 nowhere in sight, virtual conferences will only get more commonplace. It will be interesting to see if they become a permanent fixture in the business world.

Have you ever attended a virtual conference? What was your experience like? Would you attend another one in the future?

A Writer’s Guide to Networking

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As writers, we often work solo, unless we’re collaborating on a project with someone else. Sometimes it can get lonely in our creative worlds. It’s not easy working in isolation, but it is necessary to create the  work of our dreams.

But writers cannot live by their writing alone. They have to take time to get out to meet people too. But if you’re like me, you’re a bit of an introvert, which doesn’t make it easy to connect with others.

At a recent event presented by the Chicago Writers Association, a panel of local writers and editors shared their tips for building a strong network. Whether you need a break from your writing, need help getting past a sticky plot point, or simply want to connect with like-minded professionals to find out what they’re working on, your network is an important element in your career development.

One thing the panelists agreed on is this: your writing always comes first.

Here are a few of their suggestions for building your network.

1. Be a good literary citizen. Share what you know with others. Either at meetings and workshops or through your social media channels, be willing to help others. Give advice, tell others about a book you’ve read recently, or tell others about a workshop you attended. Build literary karma – by giving freely of yourself to others, people will remember you when you need help from them.

2. Promote other writer’s works. This dovetails nicely from the first point above and adds to your literary karma. If another writer you know just got published, congratulate them on your social media channels. Even if you haven’t read the book yourself, when your followers and fellow writers see the generous spirit of your comments, they are likely to return the favor when you publish yours. Put other people first.

3. Be a joiner. Join two or three groups that resonate most with you. But don’t just become a member; be active too. An easy way for other members to get to know you is to get involved on a committee because it forces you to interact with other members and industry players. For example, volunteer to be on the membership committee to welcome new members or work on event planning.

The panelists also suggest getting involved in two or three groups to gain different perspectives and further expand your social circle.

Conversely, not all writing groups and associations will resonate with you. That’s okay. Attend one or two of their meetings as a nonmember first to get a feel for what they are about. It may take two or three meetings to decide if you want to become a member.

4. Actively attend meetings. Don’t hide in a corner and observe the proceedings. Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new people at the event. Make conversations with people, and be sincere when you talk to them. Make the conversation about them, and refrain from pushing your personal agenda on them.

To get the conversation started, think of a couple of questions to ask ahead of time. For example, “What book are you reading now?”, “What are you currently writing?”, and “What keeps you awake at night with regard to your writing?”

Remember other attendees are in the same boat as you. They may be as shy and introverted as you are. It might help to seek out individuals who are off in a corner by themselves. They’re likely new to the group too, so start up a conversation. I find it’s easier to approach one person than it is two or three huddled together.

5. Connect on social media. Many publishers, authors, editors and agents are on social media. Follow them and politely engage with them. Share their posts, comment on their stories, and read their blog.

Here’s a great idea and one I plan to implement: send handwritten complimentary notes to them. Thank them for the work they do, for publishing a certain author whose work you enjoyed, or congratulate them on reaching a milestone. It will make their day. Remember, many of these literary professionals work in isolation too, and they want to hear that their work matters. However, be polite and sincere, and don’t push your agenda.

6. Avoid imposter syndrome. For some writers, it can be difficult to admit that they are a writer especially when they haven’t published anything. Avoid of temptation of telling yourself that you don’t belong with other writers because you haven’t published anything. It’s a self-defeating mindset. Whether you are a newbie writer stretching your creative muscles, or you’ve published several books already, you are welcome at all and every networking event. Practice saying out loud “I am a writer. I am a writer.” Keep repeating it until it is deeply ingrained in your soul. So the next time someone asks what you do, you can say with confidence “I am a writer.”

Remember writing is a journey and we are all passengers on the same road. Some of us come with more baggage than others. But that doesn’t mean you are not welcome to the club. You are not an imposter playing at writing. If you write often, even if you haven’t been published, you are a writer and you belong.

Finally and most important, do your writing before your networking. Your writing should always come first. If you don’t do the writing, the networking is meaningless.

Networking is more than collecting business cards. You also have to learn to be a good literary citizen too.

 

Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Writer’s Conference

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Last week, I shared a list of writer’s conferences taking place in the coming months. These conferences are brimming with good, relevant information that can help you become a stronger, more proficient writer – and maybe pave the way to getting your manuscript published. You can connect with other writers who are traveling the same path as you, and you can learn from published authors, agents and editors.

While many of these conferences can be cost prohibitive for some people, there are ways to be able to finance the admission fees, such as grants and scholarships. (See my post from last week for more information.)

I recently signed up for a conference – my first one – because I wanted to immerse myself in this intensive learning experience. I want to take my writing career to the next level. Signing up for the conference was the easy part. The hard part is preparing for the event. Luckily, I have found numerous tips for getting the most out of the conference experience, which I am happy to share with you.

1. Set a goal (or two) for the event. Think about why you want to be there. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to meet an agent or an editor you may be interested in reading your manuscript? Meet a favorite author? Make new friends? Learn about self-publishing? Get inspired to write that next novel? The choice is yours.

By setting a goal beforehand, you can go into the conference with the intention to work toward that goal. For example, if your goal is to build your network for fellow writers, make a goal of meeting at least three new contacts. Make sure to follow up with them after the conference by email or phone, even if it’s just to say hello.

2. Dress appropriately. Remember you are there to conduct business and you are representing yourself. Dress as you would as if you were going to a job interview or a business meeting. Think business casual. Refrain from wearing jeans and a T-shirt because they might send the message that you don’t take your career seriously.

3. Start networking before the conference begins. This is a great suggestion by Steuben Press. Just because the conference won’t take place until June doesn’t mean you can’t engage with guest speakers until then. If there’s an author or editor that will be present, start following them on social media. Pose a question for then on Twitter or their Facebook page or comment on their blog post. Then when you see them at the conference or bump into them during a coffee break, you can refer to one of those comments to begin a dialogue. The key is to get your name and face in front of them so they will remember you.

4. Practice your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a brief summary of your manuscript that you should be able to recite to anyone you might meet anywhere – a coffee shop, on the street, or in an elevator. Keep the pitch to no more than two sentences or approximately 50 words, suggests the folks at Jericho Writers. Most editors and literary agents you meet will be pressed for time, so anything longer than two sentences might be a time drain. Besides, most elevator rides don’t last very long.

5. Be organized. Establish a system for tracking everything from who you meet to what you learn each day from each session you attend. I like to carry a notebook that contains all my notes from workshops, classes and conference sessions. Because it’s all in one place, it’s easy for me to look back at some notes from two years ago, for example, that I may need today.

Another habit I’ve developed in my career is to make notes on the back of each business card I receive from somebody. On the back, I write the date and event where I met that person. Again I have something to job my memory about how I know that individual. When I follow up with an email, I can refer to that event that took place so they know who I am.

6. Turn off your devices when you’re networking with others. Stay in the present moment. Enjoy meeting new people without distractions. Besides, when you’re constantly looking into your smart phone, you send the message that you really prefer to be somewhere else. When you show a lack of interest in the world around you, others will show a lack of interest in you.

7. Eat with new friends and business contacts. Once you’ve made some new friends, invite them to sit with you at lunch or meet over coffee. The important thing is to not eat by yourself or sit alone at a table. Sometimes the best relationships begin in one-on-one settings or in smaller groups.

8. Don’t take the conference too seriously. Don’t be all work and no play. Make sure you have fun too. Attend some of the social events, or form your own group outing like visiting an art museum or listening to live music.

9. But don’t get too comfortable. On the other hand, don’t play it so loose and fancy free that others think you aren’t serious about your writing. There’s a time to work and a time to play. Find a healthy balance between the two and you should walk away from the conference feeling excited and energized to take your writing to the next level.

Have you ever attended a writer’s conference? What was your experience like?  How did you prepare for it? What tips do you have for your fellow writers about attending conferences?

Building Your Network: Tips for Self-employed Writers

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Writing may be a solo activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to operate in a vacuum. When you work from home, it’s important to build a supportive community of like-minded souls because, frankly sometimes you want to get away from your home office and mingle, seek out new environments and meet new people. Or maybe you just want to get reacquainted with people you used to work with.

Networking is important for self-employed writers for several reasons. Meeting new people can inspire you to experiment with new ideas or learn best (or better) practices than the ones you’ve been using. Networking can broaden your sphere of friends and business contacts who can lend you a hand when you are overloaded with deadlines or provide moral support during difficult stretches.

Networking provides a change of scenery too, a chance to check out the new restaurant or office space that you heard so much about. A change of scenery and seeing new faces can reset your brain and open it up to new experiences and new possibilities. Most important, networking saves your sanity, so you don’t go stir crazy staring at a computer screen all day, or worse, staring at four walls.

So where can you go to build your network? Who should be part of your community, your support system, and a source of potential business? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Start with your family and closest friends. They know you best and understand your career goals. Ask them for business advice or introductions to managers at their place of work.

2. Reach out to past clients, employers and co-workers. If you left previous employers on good terms, reach out to them. When they move on to other businesses, stay in touch. They may be just the contact person you need to gain an introduction to the right manager and the right opportunity at their new company.

3. Attend workshops and classes. Pay attention to your professional development. Not only will you keep up with the latest trends and practices for your industry, you get to meet professionals from other companies and other parts of the country to add to your contact list. Be sure to follow up with them after the class and every few months, even if it’s just to say hello. Invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn.

4. Consider joining social groups. Sites like Meetup.com or other local social organizations can help you connect with like-minded individuals. Whether you have an interest in skiing, dining out or book clubs, participating in social clubs helps you to reach out to people beyond your industry. What brings you together as a common interest could result in a valuable business connection.

5. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. When you become involved with a charitable cause, you not only show off your softer side, but you also showcase your leadership and creative thinking skills. Like the social networks, volunteering draws people from different backgrounds to a common cause. Use that common bond to build a strong relationship with fellow volunteers.

6. Seek out role models. These are experienced professionals in your industry who have risen in the ranks and gained industry respect. Because of their stature in the field, you value their opinion and would like to connect with them more closely. They can be someone you have worked with previously or someone you know through an online community. For example, if you’re an aspiring writer, you may want to connect with a published author whose work you have always admired.

Once you’ve connected with these individuals, experts suggest the following tips for maintaining relationships with them.

Tip #1: Remember personal stuff about your connection, such as birthdays and work anniversaries. Offer congratulations for their promotions or new jobs. Those little notes, whether handwritten, text or social media, can make people feel special. They will remember the fact that you remembered them.

Tip #2: Offer your expertise. Remember building a network isn’t about what you get from your connections but what you give to them, suggests experts at the Enterprisers Project. Act as a sounding board for colleagues on work projects. Offer suggestions or advice if colleagues are feeling discouraged or need support. Offering your expertise helps you form stronger bonds with colleagues and team members.

Tip #3: Remember to follow up. If you’ve met someone for coffee and chatted with them at a conference, be sure to send them a note of thanks. The experts at Flexjobs say that this advice is especially helpful if you are applying for a freelance gig. After you’ve met with the potential client, be sure to follow up on a timely basis. You will want to stand out against the competition. Following up shows your attention to detail and that you pay attention to small stuff. That can be important in a growing business relationship.

Keep these tips in mind and know that you have plenty of sources to draw from to build your network. Networking can be a challenge, especially for the shy stay-at-home types, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to stay in business for yourself.

The Cautious Writer’s Guide to Writing Groups

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Do a Google search about writers’ groups, and you’ll find a plethora of articles and resources touting its benefits for aspiring writers. But dig a little deeper, perhaps seek out discussion boards about writers’ groups, and you’ll get a very different picture. For example, a discussion on Quora reveals mixed reactions from participants about writing groups. Some had positive, even transformative experiences, while others expressed dissatisfaction with the groups they were part of, citing disinterested or dysfunctional members.

Certainly writers’ groups have their place. They provide a safe space to experiment with your writing, for example. They provide an outlet for socializing with other like-minded people so you can escape the solitariness of your writing life. They provide an opportunity to share resources and best practices, seek motivation, and help yourself and others to stay on track toward your writing goals.

But despite the positive impact they can make on your writing, they can also prove troublesome, according to Script Magazine. If getting too involved in writing groups, they can become a form of procrastination, taking you away from your real work as a writer. There can be a certain competitiveness among members, even jealousy, if one person is perceived to monopolize the conversation or if one person is published while everyone else is still trying to find their writing voice.

Most group members will tend to be at the same development level in their craft, usually just starting out or if they have been writing, still unpublished. As newbies, they may not have the perspective to share meaningful insight about your work. For more experienced and confident writers, writers’ groups may offer little value because they have passed that phase of their career.

Sometimes, members will comment just for the sake of commenting or to appear as a constructive member of the group. But that doesn’t mean they understand your work or can provide any meaningful suggestions.

Many people join writing groups for the socialization. That’s certainly a bonus. But writing is not a group effort. You still have to do the work, and that work requires significant alone time. The sooner writers accept and learn to tolerate the solitary nature of the work they do, said one of the Quora participants, the less need they will have for writers’ groups.

If you still believe joining a writers’ group is good for your career, think about these issues:

1. Decide what you want from the writing group. Do you want your work critiqued? Or do you want a place to gather and socialize, learn new techniques, share best practices and get encouragement for your work? If you are not clear about your expectations, you may join a group whose goals do not align with yours, or they don’t provide the support that you’re looking for.

2. What is the level of experience of the other members? A group consisting of people of different ages and backgrounds can offer alternative perspectives that can benefit your writing. If all group members are at the same level of development, that could limit the depth of knowledge and experience exchanged among group members.

3. Will the group members represent different writing genres, or are they all from the same genre? No matter what genre you work in – novels, screenwriting, short story, memoir – you can benefit from other writers of other genres. The only exception might be poets, who may not understand the nuances of narrative writing. Likewise, novelists and essayists may not understand poetry well enough to provide meaningful feedback to poets.

4. Will one person be moderating the discussion at each meeting, or will members rotate? A rotating schedule can ensure each member has a chance to lead the discussion and be engaged in the learning process. Conversely, having one person facilitate the discussion can provide consistency to the group. Some members may simply not want to take the leadership role.

There are other guidelines for starting and joining a writing group, including this piece of advice from author Jane Friedman. If you do decide to participate in a writing group, make sure you are clear about your own goals and expectations. As you become more successful in your career and gain more confidence, you may find you no longer need to be part of a group. They may not meet your needs as they once did or that you’ve simply outgrown them. Sometimes, group members simply grow apart or life gets too busy.

Writing groups are not for everyone. Critics of these groups say they can do more harm than good, hinder your progress as a writer or provide unnecessary distractions. There is no rule that says you have to be part of one in order to enjoy success as a writer. Only you know what is best for your career path.

Find the Support You Need for Your Writing Career

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Writing is often a lonely endeavor. You sit isolated in your home office working laboriously on your craft. You can see your story coming to life. Then you hit a dead end. What do you do next?

At times like these, it’s helpful to have one person or a group to reach out to for inspiration, support or good old-fashioned common sense advice. Surely your family or a close friend is the first line of defense, but they may not always understand your creative process or your deep desire to write. Even your spouse or partner can be somewhat mystified by your writing career. They might be able to provide the emotional support, but perhaps not the creative support. That’s why you need a creative support system. That system can come in the form of a person or a group.

Support systems are vital to writers and other creative types. That social outlet is needed to distance yourself from your craft temporarily to regain perspective on problem areas. Your support system may be able to see things you have overlooked. It helps to have someone to talk to, to help you become accountable for yourself and cheer you on when you accomplish your goals.

You can develop a support system from any number of places. Naturally, your family and friends are the initial lines of support. But look beyond those circles too. If you’ve taken a writing class, keep in touch with your classmates. There may be one or two who may be especially helpful to your cause. Post a message on your social media. Perhaps a former co-worker or a high school friend are avid readers and writers struggling on their own.

It helps to first determine what type of help you need. Depending on the type of support you’re looking for, your support system can be small with only one or two people or extend to an entire writing community. But not everyone wants to be part of a writers’ group. Sometimes relying on one or two people is enough to keep you sustained through tough times.

Need help deciding where to go to develop your support system beyond family and friends? Consider these other options.

A writing coach. If you’ve saved up money, you can hire a writing coach to help you through the process. These individuals are usually experienced and published authors themselves, they’ve been through what you are going through. They can guide you through the trouble spots so you can resolve them on your own. A relationship with a coach will likely be structured, and you’ll have to meet or speak with them at a designated time each week. The relationship is governed by a contract, so you will have a legal obligation to one another with set terms for payment and other details. That may or may not fit into your personal schedule.

Another downside is the cost. Coaching can be pricey and beyond most writers’ budgets, but if you are willing to work hard and desire to work with someone who will help you be more accountable for your work, then a writing coach may be a smart investment and a worthy addition to your support system.

A Mentor. While writing coaches are generally governed by a contract, a mentor is not. Like a writing coach, a mentor has been around the block before. The difference here is that the relationship is informal, perhaps evolving organically over time. There is no set schedule for meetings, so you may meet or chat once a week, once a month or even once a year. A mentor can be a former teacher, a colleague, or a current or former boss. They have loads of experience in the industry that they willingly share with you. Best of all, they can cheer you on when things get tough and celebrate with you when you achieve your goal. Meetings occur on an as-needed basis, but the value of the mentor’s insights are just as valuable as the writing coach.

A Writing group. Behind family and friends, a writer’s next best line of support may be a writers’ group. Whether you join an established one or start one of your own, consider your reasons for participating. Is it strictly to socialize to get away from your self-imposed hibernation, or do you really want an exchange of ideas or feedback on your creative project? Also consider the type of person you are. If you are a sociable type who needs people around you, a writers’ group may be the perfect source of support. Less sociable types may be better suited for a mentor or writing buddy. Writing groups can meet in person or online. Check out sites like Shewrites.org or Meetup.com, which has several reading and writing groups.

A Writing buddy. Looking for encouragement, inspiration, resources and fun? Try working with a writing buddy. You may write different genres, come from different industries or educational backgrounds. A writing buddy may be at the same skill level as you and their goals may differ. But they are friendly, non-competitive companions who want to see you succeed as much as they want to. They’ll kick you in the butt if you need to move past writer’s block and celebrate with you when you sell your first story. Whether you decide to share your work with one another is up to you, or you may decide to keep it strictly about motivation, inspiration and to talk shop. I’ve had a writing buddy for about a year now. Every time we meet for coffee, I have walked home afterward with a story idea forming in my brain. You can’t get any more inspired than that.

Every good writer and business communicator needs a strong support system. Make sure you surround yourself with the best support possible to help you achieve your goals.

Related Articles:
How to Fight Loneliness as a Work-From-Home Writer, The Writer magazine
How to Get the Help You Need, Writer’s Digest
Why Support Systems Are Essential for Freelance Life, Freelancers’ Union

Four Fun Activities to Break the Ice at Networking Events

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Networking events can be tedious to attend, especially if you’re uncomfortable meeting new people. But they can be difficult to plan as well, particularly if the point of the event is to introduce participants to one another. It can be a challenge to come up with fun and innovative ways for participants to get acquainted.

In all the meetings and events I’ve attended over the years, a few have stood out for their sense of fun and creativity. That’s because the planners started off with an innovative ice breaker that set the tone for the evening.

Below are a few of those ice breakers. The next time you are faced with planning a networking event, experiment with one of these ideas. You can find other ideas by following the links at the bottom of this article.

1. The M&M Game 
As participants enter the room, invite them to grab a handful of M&Ms from a bowl. Once they are seated, have them set aside three individual candies of different colors, which will be used as part of their introduction. Before they introduce themselves, the leader will reveal a set of questions they must answer based on their three candy colors they chose. The questions can be personal or business-related. For example, a red M&M might mean: What do you hope to learn from this session? A green one might mean: What business are you in? You get the idea. This exercise puts a twist on the traditional introduction at the start of the session. Plus you get to eat the candies afterward.

2. Fill-in-the-Blank Index Card
Each participant is handed an index card with twelve boxes, each containing a clue. Using the clues as a guide, the participant’s task is to match a person with the clue. For example, the clue might be “has green eyes.” The task is to find someone else attending the event who has green eyes. That person will put their signatures on that square. Each participant must move around the room, getting signatures from other attendees that match the description on the card. For larger crowds, it might be helpful to have three or four different versions of the card. Other suggested clues: shoe color, hair color, traveled to Europe (or Asia or South America), has a dog, has a bird, plays tennis, reads comic books, practices yoga, has three or more kids, lives in a high-rise building, lives in the suburbs, drives a SUV, etc. Mix it up. The goal is to have the card completely signed by twelve different individuals. This exercise assures that everyone meets at least twelve people during the event. It’s a great way to build a network in a safe, fun environment. For more fun, offer a prize for the first person to complete their card before the program begins.

3. The “Who Am I?” Guessing Game
Especially fun for a more relaxed environment, such as a part or a picnic. As people arrive, put a piece of paper on their backs with the name of a celebrity or other famous personality. Since they won’t know who they are, their task is to figure it out by asking questions about their famous personality. But there are three rules: They can ask no more than twenty questions; the questions must be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; the questions must be asked of twenty different people. For example, “Am I a female?”, and “Am I singer?” They keep asking questions until the answers add up to a complete picture of their character. Ideally, they will have met at least twenty individuals along the way. For more fun, you might consider offering a prize to the person who guesses who they are with the fewest clues.

4. Speed Networking
 Speed networking is just like speed dating, except you’re not looking for someone to date, but someone to do business with, offer your services to or hire for a position at your company. Mind you, I have never heard of or participated in a speed networking event, but hey, if it works for dating, why not for business networking?

Speed networking would work like this. When people arrive, they are divided into group A and group B, regardless of gender. Just like with speed dating, group A people will remain seated at each of the tables while group B switch seats as they move from one table to the next for each round of conversation. Allow a set period of time for conversation, say five minutes, before the bell sounds and the line moves on. Participants can always continue their conversations after the speed networking event. After two hours, imagine how many people you could add to your business network. Many of them may not fit your needs at that time, but keep their business cards. You never know when you might need to talk with them later. (Editor’s note: I’ve never participated in a speed networking event, though I’m sure there are events similar in nature.)

Networking doesn’t have to be all work and no play. With some ingenuity, you can help participants break the ice with each other and get your meetings off to a rollicking, productive start.

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