The prospect of attending a networking event does absolutely nothing for me. I get invited to networking events all the time, and I genuinely do try and shy away from them where possible. My worst nightmare is “speed dating events” or “breakfast briefings”, and other such events that imply some sort of desperate need to meet people.
The irony is – I run my own networking events! How duplicitous is that? The South Hants IT forum has been running for a few years now, and it provides a space for local technical people to get to know each other, or as you may call it: “network”. Rest assured, however, there is nothing formal and network like about it. It’s really more of a casual get together of like-minded people, who enjoy a casual and topical discussion and usually learn something useful, before we all go to the pub for a glass of Malbec. ?
So what, you might ask, is the difference?
Most networking events, I would argue, are “networking for the sake of networking”. There is little commonality or purpose to the audience, and you are thrust into a situation where, essentially, you end up pitching your wares to each other in the hope that you’ll find some common ground. Generally, because everyone is coming from a different angle, the ‘common ground’ is entirely missed, and it ends up being nothing more than a total waste of time. You’ll probably spend longer than necessary speaking with a very nice lady called Karen about her birthday card delivery service business, just to avoid having to introduce yourself to anybody else.
The main differentiator between “networking for the sake of networking” and South Hants IT, is that there is a pre-qualification of attendee to ensure there is genuine desire to engage. People who attend have a common purpose, which is to learn about technology and to help educate others about technology. It is this quasi-altruistic second part of the agenda which is key. We have people who are there to learn about the topics being presented, invaluable thought leaders who will always have something interesting to pitch in and ‘the challengers’ who often spark a juicy, topical debate-. Wherever they sit in the room, every single attendee will have implicitly agreed to help other group members with their technical (or technology related business) problems as part of attending.
The other positive attribute of South Hants IT attendees is they aren’t trying to sell to each other. Karen’s primary agenda is to hope that someone buys her birthday cards. The South Hants IT group are there to learn or teach. Nobody is ramming their products or services down anyone’s throat, and if they do – they’ll politely be asked to leave.
By design, the final differentiator is – South Hants IT forums are informal. We chat, we use occasional bad language, and we go to the pub. If you need any more convincing that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, just take a look at our acronym. We take the mickey out of each other, we’re not overly professional, and there is no pretentiousness. On this basis, we build relationships that are deeper than “that’s where he works”, I actually know where people live, how many kids they have, what’s going on in their home lives. I would class many of the people I’ve met through South Hants IT as good mates. It’s a really good thing.
Without blowing my own trumpet too much, South Hants IT’s success may well be down to it’s moderator - me. Because I know all the people pretty well, and can understand the relationships between each member, I can introduce one to the other in the context of how they could relate, to overcome any awkward initial discussion.
“Bob, meet Josh, he works for [company] who are in industry X and have a problem with Y. Didn’t you solve that for your client Z?” it’s that sort of introduction that bypasses the irrelevant “Hi, where do you work?” stuff, and gets right into the common ground, where long lasting, deep relationships are built. That was important to me right from the start, and longer-term attendees now do the same, so we’re exponentially increasing the chances of forming proper relationships.
Are all “networking events” crap? No. Clearly not. But I think its critical to ensure as part of any forum or format that there is:
Commonality and mutuality of purpose
Give and take. Don’t expect all benefit, you need to engage and support to get the benefit
No hidden agenda
A legend as moderator. Just kidding.
We have about 200 members, of which about 50 are regulars, and we meet every few months. Because of the current situation we find ourselves in, the latest South Hants IT meeting took place online. And we had a great time!
We’re beginning to evolve into a team of people who are looking to build beyond our masses. A number of us are looking at ways of linking the South Hants IT forum to local educational establishments, other trade bodies and other local forums. I personally have a vision of a single blob of South Hants IT tech guys who are so well aligned we drive local economy forward as a differentiator to other UK regions, building on our clear tech heritage and developing new talent through local education outreach programmes. But that’s for next week……
South Hants IT has now become part of TechSolent - Technology Networking with the aim to connect, develop, and promote technology communities within the Solent region.