On January 26th, 2021, Kelly Schrank, an Associate Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and a technical writer and editor with over 20 years of experience in different industries, presented the “Engineering Your Networking Experience” webinar for STC. The purpose of the webinar was to describe how to network effectively and to present tips for people with introverted personalities to connect with other people at networking events.
To introduce the webinar, Schrank made an analogy suggesting that people should think about networking the same way they think about their jobs. People often face challenges at work that make it unlikely that they would consistently enjoy their jobs every day. Similarly, most people do not always enjoy networking; however, just as people stick to a job because of pay, benefits, opportunities to gain experience, job satisfaction, and other reasons, they network to reap its benefits.
Schrank quoted the Dictionary.com definition of networking: “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest” (Dictionary.com, n.d.). People network to build relationships, to learn from other people they meet, and to share ideas. What is important to remember is that networking is not transactional, and to succeed at it, attendees must be relational with each other and not use each other as a means to an end. For example, simply asking a stranger for a job would be detrimental to building a relationship with that person.
Outcomes of Networking
Through networking, people can get to know other people in their industries, which can enable them to share a sense of community and potentially advance in their careers.
Schrank elaborated on steps attendees should take before, during, and after a networking event.
Before a Networking Event
Before people attend a networking event, they need to find out information about the event and plan for what they will do should they attend. Schrank brought up three things people should do in preparation for a networking event:
- Choose the right event.
- Have a goal(s) for the event.
- Prepare to interact at the event.
Choosing the Right Event
One guideline of networking Schrank suggested was to choose an event to attend with like-minded people who share common interests and to avoid attending random networking events. People involved in technical writing, editing, training, user experience, and other related fields attend networking events discussing those topics and get involved with organizations supporting them like STC, the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), and the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS). Meetup.com is also a great website where people who share similar interests can connect and organize meetings and events.
Preparing Goals for the Event
Networking event attendees should set a goal for what they hope to achieve so that they can motivate themselves and get the most out of what they are doing at an event. Schrank brought up the idea of expressing goals to other people to potentially get those people to help in the accomplishment of the goals. People can set goals to learn about certain topics, meet certain people, ask questions about specific topics, pose questions to certain speakers, and accomplish objectives they create for themselves to do at an event. People can also incorporate numbers into their goals, such as in resolving to stay at an event for one hour or to meet or chat with five different people.
Preparing to Interact at the Event
Attendees should also prepare themselves to converse at a networking event and know what to say when the time comes to interact. For example, they can choose to make small talk about an event, such as a webinar, or share what they hope to learn from it. Schrank also suggested practicing answers to common questions like “What do you do?” and “Where do you work?” in the anticipation of being asked those questions by other attendees. Conversely, attendees should plan questions of their own to ask.
During the Event
The day of the networking event—whatever it could be—has arrived, and there are many things attendees must consider to have a successful experience. Schrank suggested logging into an event early to check that the device used, whether it is a smartphone, desktop, tablet, or other piece of technology, can access the event. Doing this ensures that attendees will be able to access the event on time should they need to look for the link or install software on their computer. Attendees should check their audio to make sure that other attendees can hear them and mute themselves until they know they will be speaking. They should check to make sure their video capabilities are working and pay attention to whether other attendees have their video on or off to decide whether to turn their own video on or off. They need to list their names in the meeting so that it is clear how they should be addressed. Finally, attendees should explore the functionalities of the platform the event is offered through, such as chat features or a button that enables users to “raise their hand.”
Schrank also brought up the importance of using your “secret powers,” and no, that does not mean superhuman powers. She is referring to using effective communication skills to interact with other event participants. If attendees know of other attendees or speakers before the event, especially those they want to meet or talk to, they can research them by looking for interesting pieces of information about them and then use that information as icebreakers. Attendees, particularly those at virtual events, should also observe people who are not participating, chatting, do not have audio on or video on, and not engage with them because they could have other priorities they are dealing with simultaneously, such as work, pets, children, and other things. (Interacting with people who are not as engaged at in-person events would be more acceptable.)
Schrank also emphasizes the importance of asking questions to other attendees and demonstrating interest and attentiveness to their responses, such as through asking follow-up questions. Doing this can allow for fostering common ground and relationship-building by showing curiosity toward the subject matter of the event. Attendees should also prepare themselves to comment on whatever they asked about, such as what they like about the event so far or thoughts on the keynote speaker, and they should balance the questions they ask with answers to questions other attendees ask.
Attendees also should try to remember the names of other people they meet, repeating them in their mind and conversationally. This way, attendees can interact effectively, even introducing their new contacts to other people they might not know.
Schrank brought up an idea from Dana Rousmaniere’s article “How Managers Can Help Their Introverts Network” in which Susan Cain, cofounder of the movement Quiet Revolution and author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking expresses that introverts at networking events love to make deep connections with fewer people in contrast to meeting and talking to more people at the events (Rousmaniere, 2016). Schrank suggested discussing similarities and common goals with attendees, asking questions to understand differences such as in backgrounds and jobs, and to also talk about activities outside of work. Event attendees should reveal a little bit of their personalities instead of simply stating information that could be considered barebones. If attendees have chosen the right events to go to from the beginning, as discussed earlier, they will have been talking to the right people whom they can relate to.
After the Networking Event
After a networking event, there are a couple things attendees should do:
- Follow up with contacts
- Stay connected
Following Up with Contacts
Schrank said that following up with new contacts from a networking event is crucial because doing so helps attendees maintain contact with the people they met. Attendees should request to connect with their contacts and send a nice message that includes relevant details of the conversations shared. LinkedIn is the easiest method attendees can use to not only follow up but maintain communication. If attendees did not or could not meet people that they would have wanted to get to know during the event, they can follow those people online, comment on their posts, and otherwise start talking to them virtually. If attendees meet people who are not on LinkedIn, or vice-versa, they should follow-up as they would on LinkedIn by sending an email.
Schrank also suggested several ways to stay connected with contacts after a networking event, such as through LinkedIn, communicating through email, scheduling Zoom meetings and phone calls, and sending them cards over the holidays and new year. Finally, if people cannot find a networking event that fits them, they can create their own. Schrank suggested ideas such as hosting virtual happy hours, Zoom calls, and virtual coworking sessions to work virtually with other people on projects.
In conclusion, networking can help people form a sense of community and help them potentially advance in their careers. Although networking can be challenging, it can also be rewarding. One simply needs to prepare for events effectively, be actively engaged during events, and then follow-up with new contacts after events.
Dictionary.com. (n.d.). Networking. In Dictionary.com. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from
Rousmaniere, D. (2016, October 14). How managers can help
their introverts network. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/10/how-managers-can-help-their-introverts-network