I spoke at the Milan Chamber‘s networking breakfast on Friday morning. I got a warm response and met a lot of great people. Milan is a much smaller venue than my usual haunts — the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber — about one-tenth the size. As a result I noticed a lot of differences between the two entities — differences which would affect how I would network depending on where I was.

Here are a few of my observations:

  • Participation. The Milan Chamber had between thirty and forty attendees at today’s breakfast. That’s about twenty to thirty percent of the total membership. In comparison, the Ann Arbor/Ypsi breakfast meeting is closer to ten percent. That tells me that, at least on a per capita basis, the Milan folks probably identify with their Chamber a little more. That means if I want to do business with the folks in the Milan area, I definitely need to be a part of the Chamber
  • Visibility. Because in strict numbers, the crowd was significantly smaller than the corresponding Ann Arbor events, the leadership of the Chamber was much more obvious. I ran into at least four different Board members as well as the president and outgoing vice president. I’m sure those same types of people are also present at the larger Ann Arbor breakfast, but because there are so many more people there in general, I’m less likely to see them in the crowd. Remember that the leadership tends to be the best connected in any given group. You want them in your network.
  • New Blood. Being a much smaller community, there were significantly fewer new attendees. I think this would be a serious challenge since one of the goals of attending these events is to meet new people. If I were to attend more of these, I think I would make the point to invite a guest to attend. New blood is always important, otherwise the membership at the event will begin to stagnate and can lead to…
  • Cliques. Every group of human beings has a little bit of a challenge with this. It becomes much more serious when the group is smaller. Now, I haven’t had a chance to visit the Milan folks more than this one time, so I don’t know if this is an issue that they have to deal with. If the attendees at your events always tend to sit with the same people at the same tables, that can pose real trouble for the group. It makes the event less appealing to newcomers. At the very least, you have to make a personal effort to cross the group boundaries. Another option is for the event organizers to use some of the networking games we’ve discussed to force a bit more mixing.
Networking in smaller groups has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Be aware of those differences and adjust your networking style to play to the best effect. Remember that the techniques still work. People still want to be treated well and acknowledged for the value they bring to the table. Just keep that in mind and a small group can bring you just as much benefit as being in a larger one.
Perhaps even more.
Photo credit: Leslie Watts