We sometimes think that office work is more important and productive than attending events and networking. Some may think its a waste of time to attend outside events, luncheons, meetings, or other events away from your desk. While each position is different and you have to decide how to best manage your time to meet your goals, I think networking can be more productive than office time in most cases.
Here are some tips for how to prioritize your time out of the office:
1. Set clear goals for your time at events. Don’t just attend events for the sake of attending events. Come up with clear goals of who you want to meet, what you want to discuss, and how many new people you plan to meet. This will help you focus your time during the event and give a measurement of your success there. For example, obtain a list of people attending a conference in advance and ask for side meetings. If its a reception, look at the RSVP list or Facebook and make connections that way.
2. Set up meetings regularly. We can get more accomplished by working together. Collaboration is an important part of building coalitions and leveraging comparative advantage to create the most value. For AFF, this includes partnering with think tanks and policy organizations to bring their research, speakers, and resources to the young professional demographic.
You can start exploring potential partnerships by getting out of the office and going to lunch or coffee with your colleagues at organizations you think could be partners. If you don’t have time to meet outside the office or geographic proximity, ask for phone meetings or meet at a conference (see point #3). If you’re not sure where to start, ask a colleague in your organization or in your field what he or she recommends. Maybe look through your friends’ connections on LinkedIn and Facebook.
3. Attend lectures, luncheons, panels, happy hours, and other events. In Washington, DC there are events every day you can attend that almost always include a networking component. Review this post for a list of organizations that host regular events (usually free or very low cost). Get on their lists and go! Then follow up with people you meet and grow your network. In some situations, attending one event can be more productive than several hours in the office, and create better personal connections than phone calls.
4. Attend conferences in your field. Almost every field has an industry conference each year (or several) where the best and brightest get together to discuss the latest trends and make plans for the future. For those working in the free market/conservative/libertarian movement, there are a few conferences I highly recommend.
The best conference in my opinion is the annual State Policy Network meeting. Hundreds of state think tank leaders gather and strategize with national partners, hear great speakers, and go through excellent training on best practices for development, communications, policy, and other fields. CPAC is the longest running conference for conservative organizations and speakers in Washington which tends to attract students and older activists. The Atlas Liberty Forum and Freedom Dinner is an outstanding opportunity to network with domestic and international partners in New York City each fall. The Heritage Resource Bank is an excellent opportunity to meet national policy leaders and discuss strategic communications with partners across the country. FreedomFest is a gathering of libertarians in Las Vegas each summer that focuses on ideas.
You may find that you are more productive in the office and networking does not add value, but I’ve found that to be rare. If that is the case, please comment on this post or send me a message. I’d like to hear more about your experience.
Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation
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