Professional Development Corner: Networking

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Western Museums Association presents Professional Development Corner, a series of posts to help you navigate your museum career, find your next step, and get INSPIRED to do great things in the field. Stay tuned for more in this series to help you make the most of #wma2018 - and beyond!


Networking! It’s such an important aspect when developing professionally, especially when attending a professional conference, but if you find the thought of networking intimidating, you are not alone. Here is a compilation of resources, helpful tips, and ways of thinking about networking that will help you build your confidence and network strategically.

WMA Board Member, Anne Rowe, Director of Collections and Exhibitions, Sunnylands Center, advises attendees to, “…throw out your normal boundaries of social introduction when attending a conference…similar to speed dating, the hard part usually associated with meeting someone new is already behind you as your fellow attendees have similar interests to your own…Take advantage of it.” You can read more about how attending a conference is like speed dating in her blog post here.

Networking is more than just collecting business cards. Rather, it is about making true connections with colleagues. Wendy Meluch, Principal, Visitor Studies Services, gives some advice for starting the process of developing a network: “A net requires care to weave, it can't be slapped together. Take a minute to think about the people in your social, academic, and business networks. How did they arrive to be a part of your network? How have you kept them in your network?” Watch Wendy’s 2014 WestMusings for more about the networking dance.

The Week notes, “Research shows networking is vital to staying employed, salary growth, and job satisfaction. It also makes you more likely to land a job.” Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, breaking the ice can be daunting. In preparation, it’s advisable to have a personal statement prepared summarizing yourself, your interests and goals. (Check back next week for tips on building a personal brand for yourself.)

In How to Build Your Network, Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap write, “Networks determine which ideas become breakthroughs…Networks deliver three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power.” Uzzi and Dunlap say networks must be broad in order to reach their full potential, saying that “if you’ve introduced yourself to your key contacts more than 65% of the time, then you’re probably building your network using the self-similarity principle and your network may be too inbred.” Rather, look for people in your network that can introduce you to their networks. This is a must read for professional growth.

Inc. suggests that you manage your expectations, prepare introductory questions, and set a time limit for each event. (WMA’s Speed Networking event is structured and timed, making it a great jumping-off point for your networking!)

Check out Judy Robinett’s How to Be a Power Connector for question suggestions to achieve your networking goals, and some additional suggestions for conversation starters. Then go forth and ask lots of questions!

In her article “5 Ways to Make Conference Networking Easier”, Dorie Clark offers some handy tips for diving into networking events. She suggests preparing for chance encounters by taking a look at a list of meeting attendees before you arrive. She recommends identifying about five people you’d most like to connect with and then doing some research on their professional history so you will be prepared to start a conversation in case you run into them. 

The article, The 10 Best Networking Tips for People Who Hate Networking, offers some helpful advice for overcoming networking fears including finding your “super connectors”. Super connectors are highly connected people that can put you in touch with the most opportunities and contacts. If you have limited time to spend on networking, get in touch with your super connectors first because a small investment in these relationships will have the biggest pay off.

7 Networking Tips for Introverts offers some more helpful advice for professionals who are reluctant networkers, including bringing a wingman. If a fellow co-worker is attending the Annual Meeting, try to make plans to attend events together. Having a conference buddy helps keeps you grounded and will help boost your confidence when approaching new contacts. However, the article cautions professionals to avoid clinging too closely to your conference buddy or you’ll defeat the purpose of networking.

Ending a conversation is just as important as starting one. Emily Miethner, Founder + CEO of FindSpark, suggests that you become the closer; she contends that it is better to end a conversation early before it goes stale. Before the conversation ends, though, make sure to get the business cards of the people that you meet. When you get home, review the people that you’ve met, make notes, and then follow up with them. The Week suggests offering something or giving a favor when you first follow up with a new contact.  

The WMA 2018 Annual Meeting is a perfect opportunity for you to network with your professional peers. Attendees are surrounded by like-minded people that are excited about the same topics, as well as the future of museums. Here are some tips for building your network at WMA 2018:

  • Check out the 2018 Attendee Guide
  • Have both a personal and professional goal for attending the Annual Meeting. Do you want to learn about a specific program? Is there a particular skill you want to learn about? Make a list and hold yourself accountable.
  • Look through the program and make a preliminary schedule of sessions you would like to attend. Themed tracks are a good place to start.
  • Be an active participant in sessions—put shyness aside and ask questions. This is also a great way to start and continue conversations among your fellow attendees.
  • Identify people in the conference program that you want to meet, and challenge yourself to approach them.
  • Make sure to follow up with people whose business cards you have collected, even if it is a quick “It was nice to meet you!”
  • Get involved on social media—use #wma2018!

Remember, be confident and open to new people, perspectives, and opportunities. 


Ready to jump in to networking at the 2018 Annual Meeting? Be sure to attend our FREE Speed Networking event on Sunday, October 21st, a friendly, timed-interval business card exchange social hour. Bring plenty of business cards, your sense of humor, and comfortable shoes. This structured networking event brokers brief individual introductions and is a great way to kick off the 2018 Annual Meeting. Hope to see you there!







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