If you’re like most people, you belong to one or two professional associations. These organizations are supposed to serve serve as your networking and education hub. You go to meetings, learn interesting things, keep up with your profession, and expand your professional network… supposedly. However, many feel disappointed by their experiences with professional associations. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your money.
Talk to Current Members Before Joining
Before joining the organization, talk to a few people who are already members. Ask them to share their experiences. What do they appreciate about the organization? What are the drawbacks? What advice do they have about how to get the most out of membership? This will give you helpful advice and will also begin building your association network.
Join a Committee
This is the best way to make a membership association worth the money. By joining a committee, you do a service to the organization, help people get to know your talents, and connect with people in a more meaningful way than exchanging cards over coffee.
Committees give you a purpose and a structure. They provide a natural reason to talk with people: “Hi. I’m on the Program Committee and we’re considering a session on X. What do you think?”
Committees help you form meaningful relationships. When you’re not on a committee, it’s easy to feel awkward walking into a room where you know few people and “pressing the flesh.” Instead, when you’re on a committee, you have contacts in the organization. When you go to an event, you know people. You can connect and catch up with other committee members. They can introduce you to their contacts, you can introduce them to yours. The event immediately becomes more fruitful and enjoyable.
Finally, committee service helps others get to know you. You stop being a face in the crowd and instead become the person who’s helping out with X. People are much more inclined to be open and responsive to you if they know you’re volunteering your time to help with their organization.
Participate in Online Forums
This only works if the organization has a robust, active online presence. If it does (either on its own website, LinkedIn, or another online location), you can form connections simply by joining online conversations. The key is to contribute to the topics others raise. The authors will be grateful to you for preventing the conversation from going stale and you’ll immediately generate good will.
When writing, it’s important to remember that written communication doesn’t transmit humor or friendly sarcasm well. Keep the comments straight-forward. It’s also a good idea to write supportive or helpful comments. If you disagree with an idea, do it clearly and respectfully. Ask some questions or offer some suggestions. But don’t ever, every call someone out as incompetent or unintelligent. That’s a great way to make enemies (more on that in a future post).