The formal structures for networking such as business incubators and accelerators, and even the classic conference setup can feel outdated. We don’t always want to dedicate an evening to business; sometimes it’s better to laugh and relax with colleagues, or at least to find a balance.
That’s why we’re asking: Is ‘informal networking’ the new best way to make contacts?
What is ‘informal networking’?
In a way, it’s a ‘night off’ in the company of colleagues and like-minded professionals. But rather than dishing out your business card to prospective contacts in the first five minutes of talking to them, you let the conversation flow naturally and look to subjects aside from work. A chance to reveal the real you.
A fantastic example of where our own community saw informal networking success was July’s North Region Ball; an annual charity event organised by members of our North regional group.
This year’s Ball saw over 350 guests come together, with backgrounds from across the profession. It was a sell-out event at the Hilton Deansgate Hotel, Manchester that rejected awkward networking in favour of informal chat – attendees laughed, danced and conversed for hours.
“While the event is black-tie, a fun theme, great entertainment and a relaxed atmosphere make the opportunity to network much easier,” said Mark Whittaker, former chair of the region and now IWFM Non-Executive Director. He added, “The night allows access for professionals to integrate with other industry peers that they may not normally get the chance to meet. By utilising these opportunities, they have access to a broader range of professionals and their related expertise within the profession and can significantly expand their network of contacts in a very relaxed environment.”
Those who attend the North Region Charity Ball don’t worry about their sales pitch but can be informally introduced to new contacts that they can then follow up with after the event.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Entrepreneurship and Informal Communities report found that informal professional networks and environments are more important for organisation and individual success than formal ones. The research correlated high percentages of entrepreneurs and younger organisations engaged in business-orientated social media, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, with success. Why? Because of community and friendships.
The findings evidence that “the ability to engage with like-minded professionals and form lasting relationships can mitigate pitfalls and cultivate creativity and innovation.” And informal professional networks, whether in organisations or across industries, can be incredibly rewarding.
So, next time you’re deciding whether or not to attend a ‘networking event’, think about whether you’re meeting new people in the most effective way and really being you – after all, personal relationships that are business-relevant are much more fruitful and go beyond the office.
Set your new-found approach to networking off right by joining a regional or special interest group and attending one of our community events. Explore our upcoming events.