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Going solo.

Business networking can sometimes be a lonely, intimidating experience. Not knowing anyone in a strange city or at an unfamiliar event has turned even the most gregarious networkers into wall-flowers at one time or another. But unfamiliarity is no excuse for not making those all-important connections with people who can further your career or expand your business. Some forethought and initiative on your part might actually turn you into a host, rather than a guest, during your next solo stint away from home.

"If possible, get the event early and make friends with the coordinator or workshop leader," suggests Imogene Mabone Koehler, president and founder of The Black Relocation Association, a Minneapolis-based service for blacks moving to the Twin Cities. "That way, you've broken the ice with someone who's in charge and who can maybe introduce you to other people of interest." Koehler also suggests inviting an intriguing workshop leader to lunch or for drinks, to further discuss a point of interest or anser any questions you might have after the workshop.

Approaching other unengaged participants at an affair is another quick fix for networking isolation. Someone else feeling just as alone as you will probably welcome your friendliness. Once you've made a positive connection with one person, it'll be easier to work the room and initiate other conversations. Being shy can be an endearing attribute, but it doesn't win brownie points in aggressive networking circles. So if you're attending an event where no one knows you, make it your business to ensure that someone does before you leave.

Familiarize yourself with the sights, cultural events and major companies in the city you plan to visit. "Try to get your hands on the city's daily newspaper. This will make you aware of local issues and events that can aid you in conversation or social settings once you arrive," advises Lea O'Neal, president of Black Atlanta Transplants, a networking firm targeted to African-American newcomers to the Atlanta area. If you hit on some activities you'd like to attend during your visit, make them a part of your schedule. A message on the conference bulletin board about your plans might even get you some sightseeing company.

A special note to women traveling alone: Exercise caution in your social overtures (an obvious must). This doesn't mean, however, that you have to hibernate in your room once the day's business events are over. Remember, some of the best networking occurs after five o'clock. Many of those daytime conference connections you made can translate into fun, and safe, evening gatherings if they're set up beforehand. "If approached enough in advance, your conference coordinator might be able to arrange social matchmaking events for conference participants," says O'Neal. "Group tours and events can probably be arranged upon request."

Going solo at an event doesn't have to be a dreadful experience. Who knows? The fact that no one knows you might work to your advantage.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:techniques for business networking when attending a conference alone
Author:Baskerville, Dawn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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