A Modest Proposal: An Alternative to Networking

September 4, 2012

1:00 pm

You’re at a conference, you’ve just seen five rapid-fire talks – bam, bam, bam, bam, bam – and you’re now staring at (what does her nametag say?) Jenna T. across your coffee and muffin.

“What did you think of the talks so far?” she asks, predictably.

You hurriedly scarf a bite of muffin, trying to get the wheels turning. Your brain barely has a memory of what the talks were, let alone a coherent opinion about them.

“Oh, good,” you muster. “That keynote speaker was pretty funny.”

After one too many conferences, with one too many nametags and one too many #hashtags, talks and panels can become a blur. The speakers all seem to be saying the same general, cheerleady, buzzwordy things, so we don’t learn anymore.

So I’m offering a proposal: rather than 15-minute blocks of networking, dear organizers, please schedule in 15-minute blocks of reflective silence.

During these 15 minutes, attendees would be encouraged to contemplate, first, whether the speakers have lost their minds. Then, if the verdict is no, what the talks mean for their business and for themselves.

Suggested topics for contemplation include:

  • What was the speaker’s main message?
  • What is the speaker assuming?
  • Does the advice apply in all cases?
  • What specific steps can I take to implement the advice at my company?
  • What follow-up questions do I have?
  • Do I have to rethink any of my own views or habits?
  • What knowledge can I pass on to my cofounders or employees?

This would hugely augment the value of all these conference because – let’s be honest – most of us do not do this type of thinking on our own time.

But, organizers, if you insist that we have social contact with other human beings on our networking breaks, at least let it be productive discussion such as this.

(Oh, and I wrote this on a networking break.)

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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