by Robyn Henderson

 In our time poor society, attending a business networking function may be the last thing employees and business owner operators want to do at the end of a busy day. Yet smart networkers are realising that with a bit of planning it is possible to combine their interests, building relationships, networking and having fun at the same time. They are realising that if they have an interest in something maybe their latest prospect or client may also share that interest. All you have to do is ask! “I’m going to a golf day next month, would you like to come?” Only a keen golfer would agree to go as most people know when it comes to sport participation, you can’t exactly fake it until you make it!

Traditionally golf days and sporting events have been the domain of the serious male networking – yet these days both sexes are realising that combining networking with getting a life can result in business opportunities. And many women are becoming a whole lot more creative with their networking pursuits. Trust is the glue that keeps networking together and what better way to build trust than getting to know someone in a social setting with a shared interest.

So let’s look at some different yet popular non-traditional no strings networking possibilities:

SPA DAYS – a social day at a day spa may appeal to females more than males – yet some corporations are rewarding clients and their business development staff with this innovative way of relaxing and unwinding. Plus the day spas are more than happy to provide a great rate for group bookings.

RUNNING – Fun-runs and running competitively either in a corporate games event or a lunchtime game can again bridge that gap between client and service provider.

TRIVIA NIGHTS – These events usually include donating the proceeds to a favourite charity and are sometimes held in a pub or club to add to the atmosphere. Often the office geek becomes the hero as they shine with a photographic memory and an ability to get more answers right than wrong.

VOLUNTEERING – for a charity fund raising event or special interest group – usually assisting disadvantaged groups. This may take the shape of inviting a table full of guests to a fundraiser on one extreme, to actually donning overalls, mops and buckets and giving a pensioner’s home a makeover. The more physical the activity, the more team bonding seems to happen e.g. Clean Up Australia campaign – office attend as a group to clean up a local area.

TOASTMASTERS – many large corporations have an in house Toastmasters group, which is a great way for staff across the board not only to improve their presentation skills, but also getting to know each other better. The cross networking opportunities occur when members of one club attend another corporate club, enter competitions, or volunteer to present at other clubs locally or nationally.

BOOK CLUBS – again a more social event, which can consist of people coming together to share one book that everyone has read, or people coming together with individual books and sharing their thoughts and feedback. Again this does not look like networking but it can combine education, fun & companionship.

FITNESS – May take the shape of gym membership – what a great thank you gift for a client (as long as they are interested in fitness and would not take offence with the gift). Other potential team sports might include golf, tennis, darts, pool , bushwalking and swimming.

ACADEMY AWARDS NIGHTS GUESSING COMPETITIONS – guests are invited to enter their choices a week prior to the awards night. On the night they create their own Academy Awards night theme with formal wear, and pretend statues and prizes go to the guests who select the most winners on the night. Again a relatively low cost event with a big WOW factor.

MELBOURNE CUP SWEEPS AFTERNOON – an oldie and still a goody. Lots of fun, a full afternoon and the budget is whatever you want it to be. If your clients are unable to attend you can still allocate a horse for them in the sweep.

KNITTING AND NATTERING NIGHTS – have you heard that knitting is the new meditation? And knitting and nattering nights are sweeping the country. Some people just come for the nattering, others come for the knitting, but what transpires is a relaxing environment with interesting conversation, no pressure, no alcohol or big meals – just friendship, laughter and fun – and males and females are attending.

So the next time you moan under the weight of your business networking diary, glance over the above list and see if you can put a sparkle back into your networking and have some fun at the same time. The no-strings networking is what is often referred to as accidental networking – it just happens. When laughter, friendship,  fun and conversation come together – the result is trust and trust is the foundation for serious networking results.

Have fun!

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