Just get one extra connection out of every event.

Kim Merchant.jpg

Kimberly Merchant
Vice President
BMO Harris Bank

Networking events are great opportunities to expand your relationship base, but only if you actually network once you get there.  It can feel like so much effort to find a worthwhile networking event, register, block calendar time and then overcome the jittery nerves many people experience upon entering that you feel like your job is done by the time you arrive.  Having a drink with people you already know as you listen to the speaker may deepen existing relationships but it won’t support your efforts to broaden your base.

Kim Merchant found networking events more productive once she began challenging herself to make just one extra connection at each event.  Early in her career she heard a particularly inspirational speaker at a women’s networking meeting.  Once back at her desk, she emailed the speaker and described the personal impact the presentation had made.  Kim admits it was “a little intimidating” to reach out to this senior-level woman but she pushed herself out of her comfort zone and hit “send”.  She received no response and put it behind her.  By coincidence, she later found herself in a business meeting with the speaker.  She once again pushed herself to connect and differentiated her introduction by describing herself as “the one who sent that email after the networking event.”  No need for the reminder, though, as the speaker clearly recognized Kim’s name and remembered the email.  After graciously thanking Kim for the kind note, they briefly conversed and Kim walked away happy at the fortunate turn of events that had allowed her to make a connection with this seasoned executive.

A few months later Kim received an email out of the blue inviting her to join the woman at a table she had purchased at an industry event.  As Kim sat at the table full of successful executives, further expanding her network, she realized that her good fortune was all because she had taken the simple extra steps of sending one follow-up email and making an introduction when the opportunity arose.  This success cemented the lesson.  It also taught her that a non-response is often less about her and more about the target being busy.  Now rather than become discouraged and take it personally when she receives no response, she reminds herself her actions still may form a positive impression and lay the groundwork for a future touchpoint.

In our research, we learned most men and women dislike networking.  Women in particular can get discouraged when they feel they don’t fit in or see a confident man walking out with a stack of new business cards.  We love the simplicity of Kim’s approach.  No reason to beat yourself up for not being the life of the party and talking to everyone.  Just focus on finding one valuable new connection.  Review attendee or presenter lists pre-event if possible and specifically target valuable connections.  Psych yourself up to join a group of strangers and introduce yourself or ask a colleague to make an introduction.  Block 15 minutes on your calendar the day after an event to follow up via email or phone and to connect via LinkedIn.  Thank them, schedule coffee, or simply share some relevant information or potential introductions.  Type a few notes in your contact database and then share relevant information you come across in the future.  These steps can turn a soon-to-be-forgotten handshake into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Challenge yourself to make one valuable new connection at every event.    It may not seem like much but imagine how broad your network can be two years from now if you adopt this practice.

Kim Merchant is a Vice President in the BMO Harris Bank Sponsor Finance group, where she originates, structures, underwrites and manages senior debt investments.  Kim continues to challenge herself to make at least one extra connection whenever she is with a new group of people, growing her valuable network one person at a time.