I’ve written about making small talk in professional settings. But what if you’re new in town or new to your industry and have yet to meet like-minded professionals to chat with? How — and where — do you find your networking people?
When I moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago, I quickly homed in on where the other writers in town assembled. Besides becoming longtime colleagues, many local writers I met became my friends. Here’s how I found them then and continue to find them now.
Visit the clubhouse. Numerous coworking spaces host public events and happy hours that draw local creatives, entrepreneurs and solo workers. Writers also tend to congregate at Hugo House, which offers a variety of educational events, performances and get-togethers. Music aficionados gravitate toward KEXP’s Gathering Space. Photographers flock to Photographic Center Northwest. Filmmakers gather at Northwest Film Forum. Find the meeting spaces that attract those in your field and see what they have to offer.
Take a class. Many of these clubhouses host lectures, classes, workshops, panels and brown bag lunches. So does your friendly neighborhood library branch. One of my favorite ways to meet other writers is in the classroom. If you stumble upon the right person, after-class chitchat can turn into coffee at a nearby café. Stay in touch with your newfound colleague and you have an instant accountability partner with whom you can share goals, frustrations and milestones.
Attend a conference or trade show. This is one of the best ways to get in a room with as many people as possible who do what you do or aspire to do. Seattle is bursting with professional gatherings and industry events. For ideas, see 10times and iloveseattle.
Join a professional association. No matter what you do or are interested in — animal rescue, arts education, Android software development — chances are there’s a local networking group for you. See for yourself at iloveseattle. Before you pony up any annual dues, sample an organization’s meetings and events to see what you think.
Volunteer. Offering your services for free is an excellent way to gain entry into premier conferences and events you might not otherwise be able to afford. If you tend to feel awkward in group settings with strangers, volunteering can boost your confidence. Helping ensure an event runs smoothly and attendees get the most out of it gives you a built-in reason to talk to strangers.
Get offline. While researching where others in your field converge, you’ll probably happen upon a few industry-specific LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook groups or hangouts. The digital watercooler is certainly a fine place to convene, especially for introverts, creatives and solo workers. But nothing beats meeting your industry cohorts face to face. If the group has yet to plan an in-person meetup near you, take the initiative and suggest one.
Note that it’s entirely possible to share an industry with a virtual or real-life roomful of people and feel no connection whatsoever with anyone in it. If your first couple of attempts to connect with your fellow professionals fall flat, try again. You might have to visit a few networking groups or gatherings before you find the crew you feel most at home with.