Networking is a valuable business activity when done correctly, but it takes work.
Too often networking events can be dominated by forced, awkward interactions and banal banter while exchanging business cards.
Whats your latest roadblock at work? Whats the biggest challenge of your next event? What quirky issue is giving you fits? Chances are someone at that event has dealt with it.
You never know who your next best friend will be, Wolowiec said. And by best friend he means the person who has the answer to your problem.
Take that roadblock/challenge/issue and start crowdsourcing. Not only does it give you an instant conversation topic, you could actually leave with a solution.
If I go on Facebook and say I need a vendor for X, within 30 minutes Ill probably have 10 responses, he said. The same is true for events. If we can do it virtually, why cant we do it in person, as well? And in person is so much more powerful in terms of breadth and depth.
An outside perspective is a valuable part of problem solving. Even chief executives recognize this. Wolowiec cites a recent study showing that the CEOs are open to outside input when making decisions, but two-thirds say they don't get it.
One strategy Wolowiec uses for clients is to hold structured networking events, treating them as group consulting sessions, complete with worksheets to list the challenge and the solutions gathered.
He also recommends finding an accountability partner, someone to check in with you after a few weeks to see if you acted on your recommendations. It keeps you on track for meeting the challenge and solidifies the contact you made, he said.
For event planners, creating effective networking sessions will increase the take-aways for your attendees.
You can be structured and have someone lead an idea exchange like Wolowiec described. Or you can encourage spontaneous networking by creating a common meeting area people are drawn to, resulting in natural conversations. Wolowiec calls that "placemaking," borrowing a term used by urban planners when designing neighborhoods or cities.
In theory, everyone has a good time and builds an incredible network, Wolowiec said. In practice, that doesn't happen. We have to give people the tools they need to do that.