Professional networking has always been a challenge. Although technology helps to stay connected, it’s still difficult to determine who you should meet. If you are shy or an introvert, networking can be a daunting task.
Window of Opportunity is a type of session that can be held at a conference or as a standalone activity and seeks to address these challenges. It gives the opportunity for everyone to publicly share their profile – interests, assets, and needs – and provides a space to connect on an intimate level or even offline, so everyone can feel comfortable.
To ensure the best possible outcome, some preparation is needed.
Before the Event
The attendees are informed a few days or weeks ahead of time about the event and are asked to think about what they’ll want to share – everyone will be given 2 minutes on stage – and are encouraged to bring business cards, pamphlets, and other materials from their business or project.
Not all presentations are businesses-related. You can talk about a side project (perhaps a non-profit) or just personal interests – say, travel photography. Presentations are not compulsory if you prefer to just listen and reach out later.
The organizers will also provide large pieces of paper, markers, sticky notes of different colors, and about 5-10 blank business cards per person.
At the Event, Before the Session
Before the session starts, it’s important to encourage as much mingling as possible so that strangers start to get to know each other and are laying the foundation for future relationships.
During meals at a conference, or just before the session, attendees could be encouraged to sit with strangers or to congregate by common interests, such as economic sector. At a conference, the organizers could hire an external company to plan leadership development games that not only sharpen skills, but also give the opportunity to get to know each other by collaborating in these games.
At The Session
At the start of the session, the rules are re-explained and some time is given to let the participants finalize their presentation.
Then, presenters speak in turn for two minutes about who they are, what they do, what they have to offer, and what they are looking for.
Once all the presentations are over, the papers are hung on a wall where everyone can come and review them.
The sticky notes mentioned earlier come into play at this point. Attendees use them to connect with the presenters, by placing their name and contact information on the boards using the following rules:
Green means that the person can help directly. Yellow means that the person has an indirect contact. Red means that he or she has an idea for you.
On a multi-day event, this wall of presentation is left up, and can be used for communicating and setting up meetings. One can leave a note with a meeting request, say for lunch.
After the Event
Whenever possible, the posters created should be photographed and archived, along with the name and contact information of the person who made it.
A private database, that is accessible only to the attendees, where everyone can update their own information, is ideal. This way, when everyone is back home, thousands of miles away, they can keep in touch with the small circle of contacts that you created.
AAI has started to hold these events at their conferences, beginning with the RAC in Ecuador, followed by AAIC in Porto and AIM in India. This is only one of the many value-added sessions that you can enjoy as a delegate at these conferences.
The Window of Opportunity session is not limited to conferences. You can implement them on a smaller scale, say at ALUMnites, around this format – a networking session followed by cocktails.
If you’d like to learn more, or if you have any suggestions to add to this, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.