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Beyond the Schmooze

Technology and customization take networking beyond the trading of business cards

By Pauline Mitchell

“Networking not only helps my business, it helps me personally on those days when I just need to talk to someone who ‘gets it’ in a way friends and people outside the industry don’t get it,” says event planner Moriah Bacus, owner of Define Events in Mississauga, Ont. For Bacus, networking gets a lot of her attention. She founded eventConnect as a networking opportunity to support the professional development of new planners in the events industry in the Greater Toronto Area.

“From the beginning we wanted something more than a social get-together,” says Bacus. “We bring together junior, intermediate and veteran planners in a setting where we can learn from each other, from concepts through to execution and post-event activities—and we can keep the conversation going with Twitter and Facebook.”

In addition to eventConnect, Bacus volunteers on the board of the Toronto chapter of the International Special Events Society (ISES) where she gets to rub shoulders regularly with peers and with guest speakers brought in for networking events. Recent speaker, Steve Kemble, struck a chord with her when he said, “Visibility is more important than ability,” although ability counts too.

In her own business, Bacus tries to schedule at least two networking opportunities a week to meet face-to-face with industry partners, vendors and suppliers, either over a coffee or on-site.

Wendy Sears, of Lewis & Sears Marketing and Event Management on Vancouver Island, is a firm believer that out of sight is out of mind and networking helps overcome that. She’s a member of the Island Professional Events Network (IPEN). “We’re up-island (in Parksville, B.C.) and while most of the meetings are in Victoria, it’s worth the trip to have a chance to reconnect with colleagues, see new venues, meet vendors and remind people we’re still around.” She adds, “You share your stories—the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you also get to meet people you may want to bring onto a project on a contract basis someday.”

But networking doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Tourism Burlington plans to expand their network of contacts by hosting their first Twitter party, aka Twitter chat, in celebration of National Tourism Week June 10-16. Linda Cvetanovic, leisure and e-marketing coordinator for Tourism Burlington, was inspired by a recent MPI Twitter chat. “It’s certainly a growing trend as a way to connect with people and gain feedback.” A facilitator starts things off with specific questions to which participants can tweet responses and hopefully draw more people into the conversation with retweets. “Engagement is the key to how successful your Twitter party is—we’ll probably offer prizes to encourage participation. The nice thing is you don’t have to wait for an invitation to offer your opinions or you can merely observe the discussion and see who’s interested.”*

How to make the connection:

Networking Events
Offered by most industry associations, tourism associations and vendor partners, many networking events offer a professional development or educational component, plus opportunities to meet sponsors and vendors. Or you can organize your own grassroots event and spread the word through social media sites such as meetup.com.

Fam Trips
While you learn about venues and destinations, you also get an opportunity to build relationships with vendors and peers.

Volunteering
Meet new people, showcase what you can do and attract future business.

Social Media
LinkedIn Groups, Twitter chats and Facebook offer opportunities to identify contacts, gain information and generate leads. You can Google ‘Twitter chats’ to find a scheduled list.

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