We're starting to see more of the meeting "matchmaking" programs, where you go to a Web site, fill in your interests and areas of expertise, and have a way to find ahead of time those who you might want to connect with face to face. I've taken one of these for a demo ride and absolutely loved it. But then I read this post by Kevin Holland at Association Inc., and he's not too wild on the concept. His main objections are:
2. What am I supposed to do with a list of attendees?
3. Just because someone may have the same interests as me doesnâ€™t mean they have anything useful to teach me. That probably sounds harsher than I mean it. What I mean is, how useful is a list of peopleâ€™s interests/issues without any context? There are lots of things Iâ€™m interested in that I donâ€™t know anything about. There are a few other things Iâ€™m interested in that Iâ€™ve got a lot of experience in. The same is true of everybody else.
As to #1, yeah, they should know at least your professional interests. But if they don't, here's their chance to make good on the oversight. One would hope that, once you fill the thing out, it goes into their files so they can target their marketing for future programs to stuff you're mostly likely to be interested in, at the very least.
#2: Get in touch with them. Now that you know they at least have some common interests, why not try to get a bunch of like-minded folks together for coffee or drinks, or grab a lunch table together?
#3: Associations should include "I have lots of experience with X" and "I'd like to learn more about Y" in the fields to be filled out. I think this option is available in most of these programs.
And Kevin makes a great point later on in his post about how, since associations are by nature in the relationship/community-building business, this shouldn't just be for an event, but should be ongoing. Agreed. While it's great to use as a short-term tool to meet people at a conference, it also could be a way to network all year long. If the network is always waiting for you, it should be fairly easy to find someone to help when you run into a specific professional snag, or at least give you a place to start.