The following was adapted from The Thought Leader Formula by Robin Farmanfarmaian.
Networking is a crucial aspect of being a thought leader. Whether you’re just starting out and don’t have networking opportunities yet, or are already a networking star, a great trick you can use is to volunteer for events in line with your subject area.
The easiest way to get a volunteer position is to find contact info on the event website, and just email the people running the event. Offer your services for free and tell them why you think their event is worth your volunteer time. Focus on why you think their event is great and how you can help them achieve their goals. If you can get a direct introduction from one of your contacts to someone on the event team, even better.
Another way to get in the volunteering door is to first attend an event as a paying attendee and make it a point to interact with everyone on the event team. Now you’ll have those relationships in place and can volunteer for their next event.
One bonus when volunteering for an event is, you never have those awkward times during an event when you aren’t interacting with anyone and aren’t sure who to approach to interact with next. Everyone has those periods of time at an event when they are alone, between conversations, and suddenly feeling anxious because they are alone. That’s normal, and few escape that feeling. When you are on the event team, even as a volunteer, you always have something to do or someone to interact with.
The best positions are working the registration table or being the speaker manager/stage manager. If you only have a little time to volunteer, ask to work the registration table, as you can show up at the event less than an hour before it begins, and your job is usually done by about an hour into the event, assuming the number of late stragglers taper off by then.
You will be the first person many, if not all, attendees will see and meet. In fact, for events of 250 or less, this is the only person that gets to meet everyone!
If you were to attend as a regular attendee, you only have time to meet a handful of people. An additional major benefit is that you can also take a photo of the attendee list to follow up with everyone on LinkedIn when you get home.
Another great position that will require more of your time is the speaker manager position. As a volunteer (versus an employee, who would have a greater number of tasks and responsibility), you would help coordinate the speakers before the event with the basics, like logistics or getting their slides for the AV team.
Because you are interacting with the speakers both before and during the event, you can build a relationship with them, and they will likely remember how helpful you were as a volunteer for the event. These speakers are great potential mentors, role models, colleagues, partners, co-panelists — essentially, your fellow thought leader “peeps.”
Of course, you may be at a level of your career where it would seem odd for you to volunteer for check-in or speaker manager. For instance, if you’re part of the C-suite of a mature company, there are other ways to achieve similar results.
If you are building thought leadership that benefits your current company, send someone from your business development or marketing department to volunteer. They can network with the company’s specific goals in mind.
Another effective and strategic way to volunteer, no matter what stage of your career you are in currently, is by joining the advisory board or a committee of alumni groups, nonprofits, or local community groups that are relevant to your subject matter. You can network by being together with others in these groups. If you focus on groups that also run events, you will have a better shot at being a speaker for those events.
For more advice on getting started with networking as a thought leader, you can find The Thought Leader Formula on Amazon.
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