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Networking often gets a bad rap, and to a certain extent, it makes sense — it conjures images of disingenuous business types in bad suits in a generic hotel ballroom, all of them just continuously sidling up to each other and saying, “Eyyyy. Help me help you. Here’s my card.” Then they do that finger-gun gesture with both hands and make that clicking noise and sidle off. (Or maybe that’s just how I picture it?)
But networking doesn’t have to be another necessary evil in your work life. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Networking events can be places where real work gets done and real connections are forged.
Here are six networking events in and around Washington, D.C. that are actually worth going to:
This event wins points for being regular and big. Networking and Social Events, a national networking firm, holds Network After Work meetups bimonthly around the city.
Events can be packed with participants from a wide range of fields, but don’t get intimidated; name tags are color-coded by industry, in case you want to target your networking to a specific area. The events go for three hours, but if you show up early, you can take advantage of the complimentary drinks and appetizers in the first hour.
The DC Tech Meetup welcomes techies as well as investors and entrepreneurs to its huge networking events. Organizer Peter Corbett, who’s also the CEO of Web development and social media strategy firm iStrategylabs, says events average around 800 attendees. That’s not all that sets these events apart, though. “Aside from sheer size, what sets us apart is our focus on showcasing innovation at the super-early stage,” Corbett says.
Events — which are held roughly every other month — are often more than simple drink-and-mingle affairs. Many times, they involve attendees giving short product demos or lectures, which can help facilitate networking; if walking up to someone and shaking hands isn’t your style, it can be way easier to approach someone and say, “I liked your talk.”
This organization puts on all sorts of events, including regular, industry-specific networking receptions — upcoming focuses include government workers and international affairs professionals.
This group tends toward an older crowd, says WNG Chairman Bill Stokes. He says the youngest attendees at WNG’s last event were around 35. However, that doesn’t mean younger people shouldn’t feel welcome. “I think the smartest people at the events are the young people,” he says, given that the older workers tend to be more likely to have hiring and budgetary authority.
Networkers must be members; applications are on the group website, and membership is $90 per year. Once you’re a member, register early for your events, as attendance tends to be capped (making for a more intimate atmosphere). At many receptions, says Stokes, attendance is between 80 and 100.
Yes, we’re including it in a networking article, but it’s not exactly a networking group; organizers call it a “coworking” group. Around 25 to 60 people (out of the group’s impressive 1,440 members) show up to each of the group’s weekly events with their current projects to get (and give) ideas and help.
Like the title suggests, this group meets well after the 9-to-5 workday is over. Events often start after 8 PM and take place at various venues around the D.C. metro area. Because people use this time to work on their own projects, attendees tend on the independent side: entrepreneurs, freelancers and hobbyists are often among the people who show up, says organizer Andrew Conklin. It’s also a diverse group, with people representing all sorts of occupations, from coffee roasters to healthcare professionals.
It started as a farewell party to Sex and the City, but this has become a networking force in the nation’s capital. Success in the City organizer Cynthia de Lorenzi threw a party for the HBO show’s finale in 2004, and afterward, realizing the bonds the attendees were forming, decided to turn her get-together into something more. Ten years later, Success in the City is still going, putting on events that are open to men and women alike.
De Lorenzi says the events are meant to be unique learning experiences, different from typical drinks-and-mixing events. “We’re not about cocktails. We’re about life. We’re about putting that space together where you learn something and connect in a meaningful way,” she says.
Events feature local leaders like CEOs, as well as lectures on diverse topics, from social media training to how quantum physics can help you grow your business.
GovCon is unique for several reasons, including that as a network of government contractors, it’s very much a D.C.-specific networking group. The group holds regular networking events, often with department- or industry-specific focuses — the latest, for example, featured a congressional liaison from the Department of Transportation.
But GovCon is also unique in that it offers much more than networking. The organization’s website features constantly updated streams of news in any number of specific contracting areas, like defense, marketing and law. Go to their website, peruse their fantastic wealth of information and find out where their next event will take you.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She is pro-networking and ambivalent about Sex and the City.