A few years ago I was invited to a Business Exchange type of networking event – an event where there is hope that a lot of business folks can get together and hopefully help each other out by winning business or developing new strategies together. The hotel hired was clearly expensive and had lots of champagne and freshly squeezed orange juice ‘laid on’. In addition, together with hors d’oeuvre’s of all shapes and sizes.
Upon arrival we were led to the hotel’s grand hall. Waiters rushed backwards and forwards ensuring that upon entry each entrant was supplied with a glass of his/her chosen damage. In front of me was a sea of dark suits, both men and women engaged in filling the hall with the sounds of rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb… With a glass in one hand and a plate of mini quiche’s in the other I walked towards bunches of people in a hope to contribute at an appropriate point of interlude.
It then dawned on me that most of the conversations were being led by financial and legal consultants who would typically emerge from the right hand side of the hall and ‘net’ individuals within their vocal grasp. I remember being financially propositioned (in a ‘would you be interested in a business loan’ manner) at least twice.
OK, maybe what I have described is not typical of what happens at all these events and I have had described to me lots of similar events where valued guest speakers pitch their services and there really is great potential to engage in constructive debate focused around gaining new clients, together with identifying possible synergies. Many of these events are both regional and others national. Maybe I just had a bad experience that day – but I hold out hope for the power of the Internet and its potential to connect people in a non-threatening way and through sensible discussion (and equality).
A few years ago I worked on a large online learning project. Interestingly, the eventual completion was only between 5% and 10%. This implies that although online tools are available, take-up is limited due to factors such as time. What did work was the power of combining face-to-face and online learning, a blended approaches.
Today a newish phenomenon has started. It is called Social Networking. I’ve just set-up two: http://www.k-lever.net – for business and http://fitnessandstrength.ning.com. The latter in a hope to bring people together to exchange and motivate each other to be and stay fit.
I believe if we take lessons from the initial example that I gave and create a blended networking infrastructure, then there maybe a chance that new and real business opportunities can emerge, niches can be identified and true friendship can emerge – NB Only if people are participative rather than passive observers. Let us not forget less food will be potentially wasted!