Offline Networking, 1,600 Rail Cars, & a Mahogany Desk

PMeetup Logoart of my job at the agency is to talk about the effective use of online social networking websites and other social media channels. As such, I’m fairly well cross-connected with everything from Facebook to Meetup to LinkedIn.

(Am I too socially networked?)

Typically, I discuss how social channels are rooted in offline networking traditions, but modified to work online. How we network in real life isn’t terribly different than how we network online, right? Well, not really. There are similarities, but there are also massive differences.

I wanted to see how a modern live networking event was run, so I attended a local event from LinkedIn.

The event was held in a special events room at a moderately upscale restaurant. A modest admission included a buffet and a cash bar. Upon my arrival, the room buzzed with well-dressed people eating, drinking, and networking.

LinkedIn LogoMany had professional designed badges with their name and business offering — clearly they had done this before. I had a “Hello My Name Is” sticker with my name written with a black Sharpie.

Many people were engaged in two- and three-person conversations, making it awkward to just break in, so I grabbed some food and sat at a table. Within minutes the people at the table were introducing themselves. In real life proximity is key to opening a conversation. Same as online, except proximity is a virtual concept, not a physical one.

Two of the three people at the table worked in manufacturing, so they began chatting enthusiastically. The woman next to me built custom office furniture, like shelves and closets. She was nice and we chatted a bit about our love of our Apple products, but soon she was slipping into the conversation with the manufacturing guys. I can’t blame her. I’m probably not likely to buy a mahogany desk with built in shelves for my office. I work in a cubicle.

Around the room, people would randomly make eye contact, introduce themselves and their services. I’d describe myself as a guy who “works at a large marketing agency, where I specialize in digital interactive marketing. I develop websites, search, and other emedia campaigns.” If they seemed interested, I would go into greater detail.

Some people were definitely not interested, literally turning and walking away. I’m not making this up. People literally listened, nodded, and just walked off. Perhaps they assumed I was there to sell them advertising services, in which case, they wanted me less than a mahogany desk.

For every career consultant I met, there were at least two accountants and one insurance salesperson. I met two chiropractors who told me that sitting at a desk was bad for my back.

After a while, I settled into conversation with a guy who told me he could get me access to rail cars. Y’know, freight trains. Up to 1,600 of them, but if I needed, as few as four. Despite the fact that I had little need for rail cars, we laughed, shared a few stories, and actually made a connection.

Toward the end, I met a guy who sells insurance. Like the freight train guy, the insurance guy recognized there was nothing he could sell me. But we were both content to just meet someone new. We talked about motorcycles, our kids, and how hard it is to get motivated to go to networking events. LinkedIn allows us to do this from the comfort of home.

So that’s how it went in my first live networking event. This was a general event, so the next one I attend will be more technology and marketing focused.

In the meantime, I’ve made a few new connections. And should I ever need 1,600 rail cars on short notice, I know where to go.