We’ve all been there. The so-called networking event where we are invited to connect with people, only to discover we’ve entered a huge ballroom filled with thousands of people, all straining and craning their necks to listen to a speaker several hundred feet away. I have attended and spoken at many conferences on the subject of relationships at work, and I’m here to say, this is no way to connect.
I recently spoke at The Next Web (TNW), a global tech event that brings together over 1,000 tech executives, investors, and startups in New York City. And yet, even though there were over 1,000 people in attendance, this conference felt different. While there was of course a time when the large group listened to speakers on the main stage, a significant part of the program focused on participating in intimate, roundtable discussions, called “Deep Dives, High Fives.”
It was a great reminder for me how a small group of ten people can be so powerful.
My first roundtable table was led by Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Co-founder of Gilt Groupe and Glamsquad. As we sat down, Alexandra introduced herself and had us all do the same. She then paused and said, “Why don’t we all take a group photo?” People looked around awkwardly, but it lightened the mood as we posed for what felt like a wedding or Bar Mitzvah photo.
Goofy or not, I love the way this selfie-opp cut to the end of the story, the moment when we would all become fast friends, and the way it helped us open up about the challenges of building businesses. The time flew by, and we were all sad to see the conversation come to an end. Given that we needed to share the group photo with each other, I volunteered to collected everyone’s names and emails and forward it to everyone. Which gave us all a list of get-it-done women to reach out in the future.
My second discussion was led by Vimeo CEO, Anjali Sud. She opened the conversation by sharing how her company’s business strategy had changed around the time she took on the CEO role. Given the shift, it was even more important to focus on the Vimeo’s core values. Anjali told us that one of the ways she does this is by opening every meeting emphasizing these core values and showing how they support the business strategy. She was so authentic about being new to the CEO role, she was clearly learning as much from the group as we were from her. Again, it was amazing to me how bonded this group felt after 45 minutes.
The final roundtable was with Lexie Komisar, IBM’s Global Program Leader. It was late in the day and the room seemed to be getting louder. Lexie handled the potential distraction by removing the table between all of us and having everyone move closer, again, moving us past the awkward stage. We really did all seem to instantly relax. Lexie didn’t care what the format was “supposed” to be. She was real, engaged, and her energy just drew people in. People exchanged cards and made plans to reconnect after the conference.