By Anne Caluori, SHARE Past President
SHARE attendees all have a thirst for learning new skills and sharpening their current ones. They love the education and technical sessions and, in addition, SHARE gets asked about extending the day to allow for more session slots and using technology to enable “virtual” attendance. Someone even joked about using a time-turner (any Harry Potter fans out there?) to double up on session time and content.
From SHARE's earliest gatherings, conference organizers have placed an equal emphasis on professional networking — building a network of individuals connected by interpersonal relationships. You may be surprised to know the term “network” (as it refers to people linking together) dates as far back as 1845.
And it's not hard to understand that the stronger and more diverse your professional network is, the more opportunities you have for problem solving, collaborating, and mutual support. It only takes one or two late night crisis phone calls to a contact in your network who can help you out of a technical scrape to become a believer in professional networking.
Over the years, SHARE has made significant and continuing investments in providing the opportunities and venues for enterprise IT professionals to develop social networks. Some of those opportunities are obvious — evening receptions and open roundtable discussion sessions. Most of the time, they're advertised as a good opportunity to get to know others that you may want to include in your growing network. We've seen themed receptions, "SCIDS" receptions in our earlier days and, of course, the HASP Sing-a-long tradition for closing out Thursday nights. Others just seem to be a chance to relax and have a good time with a party or offsite specialty event (like a baseball game). Rest assured, even most "relax and have a good time" events come with the option to get acquainted with others and to build some links.
If you're headed to SHARE Fort Worth, give some thought to how you can capitalize on networking opportunities (formal and informal), that you'll encounter. Bear in mind that while it's a general stereotype that computing types aren't necessarily social gadflies, the results are well worth the effort.
Tips and Tricks to Keep in Mind
- Go where the people are. It’s pretty simple: If you're interested in getting to know some of your fellow attendees, plan on attending the receptions. Take some time before or after sessions to engage with others, and think about the coffee breaks as another opportunity. At the receptions, keep an eye out for special topic discussion tables or groups gathered under signs or banners. If you’re nervous about talking to strangers, don’t worry — most new people at SHARE feel the same way until they get to know a few people, but those strangers soon become the colleagues and friends you look forward to seeing next time around.
- If opening a conversation or making small talk is tough for you, here are a few things to keep in mind. Everybody at the meeting shares (or at one point did share) your occasional trepidation, so don't let that stop you. Consider having a couple of “openers” handy — you don't need a formal script, but if it helps, have a couple questions or easy “small talk” remarks handy to get you started. Using open-ended questions and focused listening can help you discover and develop contacts.
- Make it easy for someone to start a conversation with you. Some folks will wear a pin or sticker that might be a conversation starter, and at SHARE events you can embellish your badge (within reason) to give someone a conversation starter. Of course, you can comment on others’ pins, badges, or paraphernalia as a way to break the ice.
- Keep an eye out for “connectors” as you engage with network prospects. These are the people who just seem to know everybody. They already bridge specialty domains and organizational boundaries, and they can potentially refer you to good contacts. Not only do connectors help you identify the people who could be great contacts, they can also serve as “honest brokers,” if you're looking for recommendations about particular skills and capabilities.
Open the Doors to Learning
It can be a pretty big step from "hello" to collaboration, and frankly, two of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration are ignorance about others’ expertise and uncertainty about their ability to meet your expectations. Building your network, especially in person, can help solve both problems. Face-to-face is still the easiest way to start a relationship, experience authenticity (or not), and discover common ground. Your network also helps build your reputation as a trustworthy person and helps attract projects and colleagues to you.
Many of today’s most important challenges are so complex and multifaceted that they can only be tackled by teams of experts from disparate domains. To solve them, professionals must be able to harness ideas, people, and resources from across disciplinary and organizational boundaries.
Don't be shy about becoming acquainted with and working with people from other specialties. You might even consider developing additional sub-specialties of your own. SHARE Fort Worth is the perfect place for you to learn new skills and build your own networks. We'll see you there, right?