Networking is critical to your career and professional development. It helps you generate social capital and expand your influence. You might have incredible skills, but few people will notice them or see what you accomplish without a network.
That's why getting stuck at a bad event can be so frustrating. You are losing time in two ways -- the time lost traveling to and attending the event as well as the opportunity cost of not spending time on more productive activities. Over the years, I have developed a method of categorizing events as “High Value” or “Low Value.”
High vs. Low Value Events
High Value events have solid crowds, engaging and thought-provoking discussions, and an energetic vibe. You come away from these events feeling you learned something valuable and met interesting people with whom you want to stay in touch. Some of the best connections you can make in your career can come from attending High Value events.
When you attend a High Value event, you place yourself in an environment that exponentially creates opportunities. Think of events like TED and Davos, where you are not only listening to stimulating content but also engaging in thought-provoking conversations with people who are changing the world. Sometimes these conversations lead to collaborations, business deals, or partnerships that change the entire course of your life.
As Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” High Value events are the platform for the type of serendipity that connects your preparation (all of your skills and knowledge and experience) with a room full of opportunity. Just as Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz, shares, many of your best contacts -- the type who positively influence your future prospects -- come out of events.
It's usually obvious when you're attending a Low Value event. Whether it is the odd grouping of people, the lack of focus, or the poor choice of venue, the only thing you can think of is your escape plan. You come away from such an experience feeling cheated that you wasted your time.
The Characteristics of High and Low Value Events
Use the following criteria to identity the types of events that place you in environments with exponential upside:
Reason for attendance: You should have some purpose for taking time out of your day, whether it is to learn more about a topic, meet new people in your industry, or catch up with folks in your network. Don’t attend an event just for the sake of attending or because a few friends are also attending.
Agenda, topics, and speakers: Are the topic of interest and the agenda sensible? Sometimes the topic sounds interesting, but you should dig into the details to ensure that the agenda and speakers match up to the promise of the topic. Note that sometimes the topic might not be of interest, but a great speaker can draw a quality crowd for networking purposes.
Organizer: Much can be learned by doing some cursory checking of the person or organization that is hosting the event. If they have a solid reputation and have successfully hosted a similar or the same event in the past, then chances are the event will be worthwhile.
Open or exclusive: An open event is not a bad thing as you have the opportunity to meet new people outside of your network. The advantage of an invitation-only event is that it tends to be more exclusive, with an attendee list that is curated by the event organizers to be more relevant and targeted. Some straddle the fence with “gating” tactics such as charging fees or targeting a specific niche to ensure attendees are legitimate.
Size of the community: A large community increases the diversity of people and ideas -- but it might be hard to manage and maintain focus. A small community is more targeted and its members are generally more like-minded and share similar purposes. If the community is too small, however, the event will likely have poor attendance.
Number of attendees: Large events can be fun yet are usually chaotic. In an event with hundreds of people, it is hard to know how to navigate the crowd and whom you might want to talk to. Mid-sized events (around 30 to 70 people) are a good size for facilitating conversation and interactivity, and you have a realistic chance of meeting and talking to most of the other attendees. The tipping point is around 100 people, and then the quality of interaction tends to plummet pretty quickly.
Paid admittance or free: If an event is paid and they are still getting strong attendance, then you know that people value the event and that attendance will be strong. With a free event, you can never be sure how many people will attend or bow out at the last minute.
Other attendees: Event organizing sites like Meetup, Eventbrite, etc., as well as social network sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, sometimes allow you to see who else is attending. If there are people you really want to meet attending a certain event, that might in and of itself make attending worthwhile.
Purpose of event: Networking is important but should not be the exclusive purpose of the event. Most “networking” events tend to attract the type of people who are all about networking for the sake of networking, making the vibe far too forced. Unless it is a very tight-knit and exclusive community, general networking events are simply lousy experiences.
Other red flags: Some events just scream “Low Value.” Be careful of events with gimmicks like “speed-dating” or contests, exorbitantly high entrance fees, incessant spammy requests from organizers and attendees, and audacious claims you will find the perfect co-founder, eternal inner peace, or massive wealth.
Using these criteria may not save you from attending the occasional dud of an event, but you will be able to avoid far more than before. Focus on worthwhile events that'll match your preparation with opportunities.
If you are in B2B sales, I would recommend checking out a local chapter of the Enterprise Sales Meetup, a community for sales professionals to share ideas, network with peers, and learn from accomplished sales leaders.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, and is published here with permission.