It's party time
You find yourself wedged together, surrounded on three sides by water and the fourth by a wall o' cocktail party. The sound of a rushing waterfall somehow blots out the crowd, plunging both of you into an intimate silence that demands conversation. Naturally you're a state-of-the-art professional; you have a well-toned 'big picture', buffed opinions on all the issues. This is the 'networking' your company is paying big bucks for. What do you say?
Perhaps you open with a worldly globalization-cross-border-consolidation-DaimlerChrysler-stock options-management-gets-disgustingly-rich line of discussion. The lightbulb over Wall Street's head is finally shining light on options: as profits top out, investors realize management is getting rich whether or not a company outperforms. Or you could just ask, 'Whaddya drive?'
Or take the nerd approach and fall back on key conference issues: web-chat-rooms-managing-estimates-conference-calls-media. Should news organizations be invited on earnings calls? The uninvited listen anyway, and some have been replaying calls. Should you monitor internet discussion groups? Some companies even formally contribute to the forums. The sortie here: 'What's your URL?'
But you've been in brain-workout mode all day and are more likely to compare notes on the coolest vendor giveaways, stunts, product launches; the best parties - who was there, who sang what silly karaoke tune. You may let slip some gossip about all the shake-ups in this business: who bought, fired or hired who.
The truth is most conference small-talk is even more everyday. It might start simply, 'Wouldn't the kids love it here?' As a generation of professionals grows and matures, the real value in networking often comes from beyond the conference's headline issues - personal goals and values, how you're achieving them.
You might be talking to someone in this issue of Investor Relations, like MCI's Mike Kraft, with a 14-hour-a-day, rollercoaster year full of merger war stories. But they're probably more like Jan Abernathy of Dow Jones & Co, who returned from maternity leave to a part-time job that includes hosting the Wall Street Journal's 'Work & Family' radio program. Or Denise Warren, now with California's First American Financial. The mother of three telecommutes from upstate New York. Or Jim Rapp, who came out of retirement to handle IR part-time at Airgas.
Now take the precious information gleaned from 'networking' and go back to your company. It's more valuable than any binder of handouts, any fistful of business cards. But only if you networked moderately, bringing home more than just the vague memory of a wild party.