By Elaine Westcott, WEN Member
Elaine is a freelance writer and editor with solar industry experience in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors.
The speed networking event invitation promised a “safe, welcoming space” where we could “truly get to know others as we talk within small, rotating groups.” Surely this would be another fantastic evening with the ladies of WEN. Though as I climbed the stairs to the private second floor of Oakland’s Spice Monkey bar and café, I felt some pre-event jitters—after all, I was here to network, a very serious business.
For me, the word “networking” conjures the image of a room full of strangers—usually dressed in sharp business suits—assertively exchanging business cards with the goal of climbing up the corporate ladder. We’re told that networking is a trial to be endured, not an occasion to be enjoyed: indeed, an online search for “networking tips” produces such articles as “17 Tips to Survive Your Next Networking Event” from Forbes, while the job-hunting experts at Monster.com will teach you “How to Be the Person People Want to Talk to at Networking Events.”
After being warmly greeted by WEN board members, I noticed that most of the tables were already full: clearly, the WEN invitation struck a chord with a lot of people! Everyone was enjoying appetizers while discussing the first prompt (“Where are you from? Why did you move to the Bay Area?”) to guide the small-group conversations with our table-mates. There was laughter all around, with plenty of “mm-hmm”s and reassuring nods as we found the common threads in our respective stories. As we munched on olives and shared our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our planet, and our society, I thought, “Why can’t all networking events feel like this?”
As described in a recent WEN Blog post, researchers blame the transactional dynamic of many networking events, whose attendees are compelled to prove themselves worthy of others’ time by promoting their services or connections. When conversation is limited to the contents of your resume, there is little chance for human connection.
For those who aren’t interested in the rat race, you’re in luck: there’s another, more genuine way to grow your network. WEN’s speed networking event was designed to engender a sense of community at each table, no business cards necessary. Every few minutes we’d receive a new discussion prompt, which helped us break the ice.
I truly enjoyed my night getting to know other ladies in the environmental industry. The best networking events are the ones where you forget you’re even networking. WEN succeeded in doing just that, and I look forward to more events like this in the future!