Nothing Good Ever Happens After 7 p.m.

Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

This is the new reality, which many industries are slow to embrace:

Events that have no specific agenda other than food and drink, and which occur after 7 pm, are largely worthless, if not harmful, to actual business development.

I’m going to present my case for going to the gym, going out to dinner, going home, or staying in the office working – in other words, going anywhere other than a networking event at night.

Wikipedia defines “networking” as

Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.

Ask yourself: In the last year, have you made even one new contact or developed even one new piece of business from wandering around a room with dozens of people where everyone wore a name tag and had a drink in their hand? A colleague calls this “Lord of the Flies Networking.”

The most valuable business connections are not going to be found at an evening networking event which has no substantive presentation or agenda, and where people are doing nothing except making small talk and drinking. The people you need to meet are simply not there.

Candid observation: many deals are driven not by those at the top but those in the middle. The “middle” – especially in the restructuring field – is comprised heavily of people in their late 20’s to late 40’s (early Gen Y and late Gen X).  To their credit, most want to spend their evenings with their family or friends, at home, or at the gym. Many people only go to these events because they feel they should.  They would rather be somewhere else. It shows. After a couple of drinks, conversations devolve and connections dissolve. This is the very opposite of what Wikipedia defines as “networking.”

“Lord of the Flies” networking is part of an “old think” way of doing business. Its demise is part of much larger social trends and changes in the way people do business.

These larger trends and changes include:

  • Social media, over the last ten years, has come to completely dominate business communications. The primary mode in which many new business contacts are made is often social media.
  • Online commerce has supplanted the primacy of brick-and-mortar presence.  Physical presence is not as essential as it once was.
  • Social trends, including the convergence of gender roles, the perception of parenting as primary to identity for both men and women, and the prioritization of work-life balance.  For many if not most people, being somewhere else at night is simply more important.
  • Workforce rationalization leading to increased work responsibilities (more work, less time). Every hour counts, and busy people find evening networking a waste of time.

Direct communication remains the only means of effective networking.  Direct communication means:

  1. Substantive presentations (in-person programs, webinars, podcasts)
  2. Roundtables
  3. In-person meetings in prime time.
  4. Breakfast, lunch or dinner
  5. Phone calls and texts.

Developing new contacts and new opportunities only comes from direct communication and relationship building.

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