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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tip Five: Diversify Your Educational Events

While in Korea, I had the option to either enroll in a language class or work towards a black belt. I really wanted to learn Korean so . . . I signed up for the martial arts class.

It might have seemed as if the obvious choice was to join a university program but the actual result would have been regular conversations in English. It was the common language of my international classmates so while the lessons would be in Korean, all of the lunchtime gossip would have been in English.

So instead, I chose to keep a grammar book in my bag but hit the real world. Martial arts classes forced conversation and listening comprehension. After all, the meta-lesson was to not end up in the hospital. The motivation to communicate was immediate and profound: when the content of the conversation would prevent my skull from breaking, it garnered one hundred percent attention. There was no room for shyness when asking for clarification either.

Networking diversification is also important when choosing events. It may seem logical to attend career fairs if you want to find a job or to attend technology mixers if you are looking for technology opportunities. However, at a certain point, you have to stop preparing and take your education out for a test drive. Like grammar, knowledge is no use unless you use it.

There's no better way to test your preparation than to have it jump into a inter-disciplinary setting. When you are an expert in cloud computing, attend a mobile technology or global economy event.

Networking outside your field can generate better leads as well. In a room full of job seekers, you are going to meet other job seekers. If anyone finds a lead, she or he is likely to keep it instead of sharing.

Attending an entrepreneur's event might be a better resource for an engineer in transition. In a room full of CEOs, an engineer stands out. In addition, the conversation might be more relaxed since the competition is greatly diminished.

There are no guarantees but at the very least, you will have learned something new, seen a new perspective and met new people.

This post concludes the series Five Pointers for Attending Professional Education Events. These days, a job search or client development is not about sending out 1,000 letters. No one considers the task to be concluded in four weeks. It is a long process so it helps to plan well, be organized but most of all invest yourself in the process. You will have better success when you project a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Hopefully, these pointers are helpful and will remind you that the living and learning is a life long process.

Fourth: Volunteer

Volunteer?? You just wanted to find a job or get more clients, not more work!

Imagine yourself at the office and there is a knock at the door (or a tap on the low wall of your cubicle divider). You open the door (or look up) and the person promptly asks you for a job; or, if you are not presently hiring, whether you know someone who is. The person waits.

Even if you really wanted to help this person, two questions immediately come to mind: a) “Who are you?” and b) “How should I know?” Even if you were a famous, wealthy, well connected executive, these are the questions in your mind.

If, however, that person rolled up his sleeves and worked alongside you on a couple of projects, you’d evaluate him in a different light. He gives you a sample of his work ethic, energy level and, even better, helps make your life easier. By volunteering, you’ll let them know who you are and they will develop a sense of how they can help you.

There is only one step required to execute this plan: tell someone. But, before you do, please prepare yourself. You might be enthusiastic (desperate) for inclusion in this group but if you want to be at your best, you have to make sure everyone gets along. Here are some tips:

Survey the groups you’ve visited and choose one or two:
Do you like the subjects? Do you want to learn more?
Do you like the organizers? Do you emulate them?

Research the organization.

Chances are, even if you have attended a cluster of events, you probably missed out on basic information like its founding, mission statement or even past events. Figure out where you might fit in their grand scheme.

Then make the leap and tell an organizer about your interest. By the way, when you do, keep it simple. You are not there to solve its problems, whatever you happen to perceive them to be. Why? Because at this point, you won’t have the experience to know whether they even consider low turnout/bad food/boring speaker to BE a problem. If you want to make improvements, keep it to yourself and roll out your grand plan later after you’re better educated and have earned trust.

Everyone can volunteer and every organization needs volunteers. even if you have no skills in the profession, if you’ve lived with people in a society and have planned at least one outing to a movie or the beach, you are prepared.

Volunteer options, from least to most involved:

Check in: Meet everyone, be visible
Write for publications: Get your name out there, learn as you write
Planning (logistics): First contact with speakers, befriend staff
Generate event ideas
Organize an entire event
Join the board

Revisiting our hypothetical about a stranger knocking at your door, when you volunteer, you’re no longer a stranger. And, since you’ve proven yourself, your contacts will not only be happy to think of you for future opportunities, they will be more likely to recommend you to others in their network.

Third: Follow Through With Your Contacts

(Written on October 7, 2010, published by DYP Advisors)

Our favorite Hollywood story is about the sudden discovery: you meet a highly placed executive, strike up a great conversation and — cue music — you’re hired and tucked into a corner office with great views. Role credits.

Unfortunately, that’s what we consider a happy ending. In science fiction, this is the scary plot, the one where there is instant categorization, allocation and minimal human contact. But yes, it sure is easier. In any case, statistically speaking, it’s definitely one thing: irrelevant to your networking efforts because the chances of that happening are slim. So when you network, prepare for a lot of follow up. It’s not as easy as making first contact (exchanging business cards) but this is where the magic happens.

First, contact the person soon after the event. There is so much going on in our busy lives that it will be more difficult for you and for the recipient to remember each other afterwards. If you met multiple people, it’s even more difficult.

Second, to the extent that you can remember, personalize the message. Mention a unique point in your conversation, to not only show you were paying attention, but it will jog his or her memory into remembering you. And remember: “personalize” the message by commenting on the conversation, not appearances. The word is personalize, not personal. No one appreciates a conversation that suddenly becomes too close.

Third, schedule a meeting. Invite the person to coffee or a meeting. Accommodate as much as you can as to location and time.

Fourth, respect everyone’s time. Say what you have to say, be direct, be friendly and then release your captive. Everyone remembers that free feeling fondly.

Fifth, follow up the follow up. It’s just simple good manners to send thanks. No one expects hand written notes anymore. An email message suffices. If you are both tech savvy and use your social networking for business, you can go that route as well. By the way, if they are not tech savvy or use their accounts personally, do not bother. Not everyone uses facebook as broadly as you might and it could be seen as an intrusion into family/social space. More than that, they might not check their account often so your note will be neglected. Stick to email first.
Slowly, you’ll meet people, learn about them, remember them and recommend them to each other. Business develops and the entire process becomes dynamic: you have a network! When we daydreamed about our Hollywood ending, it was a passive role. Everyone I know who organizes events hopes that the audience will be engaging, interesting individuals who connect with each other. In real life, everyone roots for the heroine and you’ll know her because she is the one writing her own script!

Second: Enjoy Networking but Stay Focused

(April 27, 2010, published at DYP Advisors)

Professionals know that networking is important to their success. I have been thinking about how and why we network.

Humans are amazingly, almost psychotically, adaptive animals. It should be strange that we throw ourselves out of airplanes but there are entire industries shoving us out of planes, off bridges and down into waterfalls. How much easier it is acclimating to professional meetings! Maybe too easy: once intimidating, these events now mainly hold promise of wine and friendly reunions.

Of course, everyone should feel at ease to be themselves. We have strengths and we should practice presenting our best sides in public because, after all, they are our own home-grown best sides.

But develop too casual an attitude and you might start mistaking these events as social gatherings. Cliques develop, individuals grow clingy or, worst of all, over familiarity leads to behavior that crosses professional boundaries. If your inbox is not as active as you’d like and nothing educational has penetrated your skull in a while, stop and take stock.

Meet People: That Is The Point Of Networking

First of all, as fabulous as your friends are, if you spend time exclusively with them, you neglect others. Your network cannot grow without meeting new people. All the cool kids know that.

Friendly Does Not Equal Friends
Second, familiar faces are not automatically friends. Friendship is a mysterious alchemy but one that certainly requires mutual investments of time outside the event. No matter how friendly a person is, do not corner him with your involved story. Err on the side of polite consideration. If destined to be friends, you can burden him with your long stories later.

Behave Professionally While Networking
Lastly, you are not in your living room. Just as if you were in the office, you are being compared to colleagues and work places. Even if you attend with friends, behave professionally until you leave. If someone overhears your racy joke, inappropriate remark or criticism, it will be remembered. In fact, your friend might count it against you because of the embarrassment of putting her in the position where she cannot correct you publicly but cannot escape you. Do not publicly broadcast character flaws.

You might (defensively) say, “That’s part of my charm!” No. Just as we have a genuine best side to showcase, we have areas that need work. Managing the slow death of negative qualities is hard, unpleasant, personal work. You need to contain it. Events are not the place for either getting drunk or discussing your drinking problem. Whether or not a particular mischievous joke is funny is irrelevant when it is inappropriate. Everyone deals with issues. No one wants to bring yours into the office.

How To Refocus While Networking
In order to refocus, assess your feelings, adjust attendance . . . and go take a hike! Most people lose focus because of burn out. Schedule some social time with friends/family (outside these events!) and avoid growing jaded and bored. Skydive, snorkel or surf and remember why your profession is important to you and to society. Remember how fortunate you are to attend these events, meet new people and keep that positive attitude with you.

Five Tips for Attending Continuing Education Events

(Written on March 23, 2010, published at DYP Advisors)

Over the past ten years, I have had the opportunity to organize continuing education events for the Palo Alto Area Bar Association. These seminars focus on a wide range of topics, from “Immigration Issues for Startups” to “Tax Aspects of Doing Business in India” and, since our speakers are the cutting edge in their respective fields of expertise and our audience seemingly all had time to pick up a PhD on the topic, I consider myself lucky to be allowed admission. Luckily, as President, they allow me in—plus, I promised to work the registration table.

No matter what the topic, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to learn something new. It’s useful even if outside my practice area because I need to know what I don’t know. Sometimes though, just as one must not look directly into the brilliance of the sun, I have had to (often) rest my brain. In these moments, my organizer-hat appears and observes the event’s mechanics.

It is from this organizer/participant hybrid perspective that this post developed. We show up to learn but need to maximize the value of the time spent at these events. Hopefully, this list of five pointers will help you think more proactively when you schedule your next continuing education event.

First: Remember the Dual Purpose of These Events

To be sure, these events are educational but organizers also encourage networking among participants. Otherwise, we would publish books instead of going through the hassle of figuring out how many sandwiches to order for lunch.

The format is similar to college classes, focused on a topic or speaker, conducted lecture style, with handouts. Created for the benefit of members, the general public is welcome to attend. The function seems obvious: You attend, you learn, you leave.

WRONG.

For those of you self described “intellectual” types who only want the education, please realize you are outside of that hermetically sealed pod called your office. If you invested the time and energy to pry yourself away from your desk, you may as well meet other people. Yes: network.

No matter how much you adhere to book learning, it is undeniably more rewarding to discuss books with other interested readers. Attending topical events is one of the easiest ways to meet other industry players: you have a common subject to discuss and no requirements to be an expert yourself.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who practically shed business cards and dismiss the educational aspect. Some good advice: Please at least choose a topic that piques your interest.

This seems laughably straightforward until we consider the golf metaphor. Everyone in business feels the pressure to play golf. It’s “good for business” but not all of us enjoy golf. Not even avid golfers like golf, depending on the day. Similarly, if your main goal is to network, you think all events are the same for your purposes.

WRONG.

There are some topics that will be your “golf” topic—something that is “good for business” but odious to you. By all means, experiment, but if you identify an area that is toxic, skip those. Learn at home or online. Otherwise, you will be miserable. Worse, you will not keep up and will resent those who have a genuine interest. And they will resent you because no one attended an event on “Doing Business in China” just to hear you talk about you.

Remember, the advantage to attending these educational events is that they are relaxed, efficient ways to learn more about your profession and meet other people. If you routinely leave without either, there is a serious flaw in your approach.

Hopefully, the next two tips will help!

Friday, October 8, 2010

GGU School of Law: Law Career Services: IP Law Panel Fills Room;Shares Valuable Career Ins...

GGU School of Law: Law Career Services: IP Law Panel Fills Room;Shares Valuable Career Ins...: "by Eric Gelwicks LCS Graduate Fellow On October 5, the Intellectual Property Law Association hosted a three attorney panel that spoke to a ..."