How to Network in a Professional Association

How to Network in a Professional Association

Image by Ginny Huo.

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).

What tips would you add to this list?

One Comment

  1. These suggestions are at the core of what makes a professional association work for its members. I’d add a couple quick ideas:
    1. After each meeting, adapt/adopt something that was featured or discussed. Turning ideas into action gives you, probably your organization, an immediate benefit and more to talk with the association members about going forward.
    2. Every couple of months, invite another member to meet 30 minutes or so before the meeting…or consider a coffee or lunch meeting….and use this time to share some ideas about common concerns. The icebreaker is the association and your reward is a wider network.
    3. Take new members under your wing. Just like you, they want to meet people and could find it difficult among people who’ve already bonded. Sit with a new member, talk with the person outside the meeting–even a phone chat to ask her thoughts–and you’ll have made a significant difference on the quality of interactions at the meetings.

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