I have seen many highly SEO'd articles on the interweb giving their two cents on the best places to network. It's pretty interesting to see how many articles just throw out a bunch of random places where they see people, repeat old locations, or talk about moronic ideas like the unemployment office (seriously? Who the hell wants to talk when they feel incredibly negative, depressed, and down on their luck). If you want to do some serious networking, you gotta think for yourself. Here is what you need to know about situational networking, and how to incorporate a couple skills into your own networking plan.
The size of a group matters because it should change your networking style, and it BETTER change the goals you have for the event.
#1. Large Events (100+)
These events usually take form of Trade Shows of one form or another. These are the best places to throw a lot of fish into your net for future selection. The goal here is simple. Make a good impression on everyone you talk to, Gather some kind of personal data that resides outside a new contacts work, and talk to as many people as humanly possible. That's it.
Do Not Linger, DO NOT LINGER with any one person. Even if they want to make a purchase right their on the spot, get out of the conversation. Period.
#2. Mixers (50-100)
Mixers are usually Happy Hour events, Office Parties, Client Appreciation events, or something similar. Mixers are a crap-shoot. They can be little gold mines, or they can be big ole wastes of time.The key here is to pick wisely.
If a bunch of friends are going to a mixer, and you expect that you will know most of the people present, I suggest that you skip it entirely, or show up and leave in as little time as possible. The reason for this approach has to do with the fact that mixers that are comprised of friends will end up being a night on the town, drinking it up. Getting drunk with someone 80% of the time will not strengthen a relationship, and runs the risk of making you look like a moron.
If the mixer is comprised of people you do not know, then they can work very well for you. The goal here is to find hubs of influence. Find the people that know everyone in the room, and make a connection with them. The hub will allow you to meet everyone over a longer period of time, with better results because of who is making the introduction. You cannot do this at larger events because the hubs of influence are either behind the curtain, or indistinguishable from everyone else.
#3. Intimate Gatherings (20-50)
Intimate Gatherings usually take form of a volunteer event, an invitation only event, benefit dinners, personal parties, or any small group rallying together for a SPECIFIC PURPOSE. These are the places you go to deepen a relationship with an already existing acquaintance. If you try to sell or talk business at one of these events, you're an idiot.
THE GOAL HERE IS TO DEEPEN THE RELATIONSHIP. PUT EVERYTHING INTO THE GOAL OF THE EVENT, AND NOT CHATTING IT UP WITH YOUR NEW BUDDY!!!!! I wanted to make that clear, and yes, I was yelling while typing.
#4. Regular Meetups (5-20)
These events take form in things like BNI, Lead Groups, or Ascension Networking Groups. The purpose here is quite literally to make connections with the people in the group for some kind of desired outcome. The outcome may not be business, it could be learning a new skill (college class), or enhancing your getting in shape (Art&Strength).
The tactic here is to create real friendships, hoping they will last a lifetime, even if you or they go out of business. These can be the most productive groups you can attend, if you focus on friendship.
#5. One-On-One (1-5)
The coveted One-On-One is the best way to strengthen a relationship with someone. Getting a couple people together for a cigar, or a round of golf can do absolute wonders for your relationship. By now, I hope you understand that its true friendship that drives referrals. It's the emotional connection you make with your friends that compel them to refer to you. Get together with a few people, be genuine, and just experience the magic.
I hope by now you realize that I just gave you 5,000 best places to network. I hope by now you realize that it's friendships that make the referral, and not loyalty to your BNI Group, or whatever your excuse may be. If you made it here, please pass it along to someone new to networking that could use this.