The Nuances of Networking: A Conversation with Mr. Thom Coats

Feb 16, 2024

Contributed by Sreehari Sreejith | Middle Tennessee State University DECA, TN

It’s almost here! The highly anticipated Collegiate DECA ICDC is just around the corner, where we get a chance to compete, collaborate and celebrate. But beyond the thrill of competition lies the priceless opportunity to expand your professional network and build long-lasting relationships. Irrespective of the branch of business and operation, networking stands as a cornerstone for success.

To shed light on the significance of networking and share valuable insights for effective networking, I recently had the privilege of interviewing Professor Thom Coats, a distinguished faculty member of Professional Selling and Marketing at Middle Tennessee State University. Professor Coats, with his vast experience, provided insights that are not just related to Collegiate DECA ICDC but also include networking events and conferences in general.

“There are three main goals to networking: Meet someone new, hold a relevant conversation and earn that follow-up meeting.”

During conferences like these, where competitions or workshops are the primary attractions, it can be highly beneficial to research and make note of institutions and individuals who are going to be present during the course of the event. Not only will this help gain better clarity about the overall schematics of the function, but it will also help streamline the networking process to gain maximum value within a limited amount of time.

“There are two things to be mindful of when preparing for a networking event: An Elevator Pitch and a well-rounded LinkedIn Profile.”

Having a personal elevator pitch that answers what you do in a clean and structured manner helps make the conversation interesting. The key to nailing a personal elevator pitch in scenarios like these is to retain important details while keeping it between 60 and 90 seconds.

The second aspect is having your LinkedIn profile polished and keeping your profile’s QR code handy for easy sharing. The LinkedIn Builder Checklist is a great tool to use when working on your profile.

"LinkedIn is your professional digital portfolio. It gives you a platform for continued collaboration, sharing insights and staying updated on each other's professional journeys.”

Sharing LinkedIn profiles during events enhances the longevity of connections established in person. It allows for a seamless transition from face-to-face interaction and helps us stay connected beyond the premises of the conference.

One point that was visited and revisited several times during this chat was the fact that everyone was in the same boat. Keeping an open mind toward interactions and keeping the conversations simple and straightforward can help everyone involved ease into the conversation.

“It is essential to step away from your comfort zone – especially when traveling as a group – since it can appear intimidating to the rest of the crowd.”

Splitting up from your group during networking events and conversing with others individually can build a deeper connection and lead to a more enriching experience.

Conferences that last over multiple days present the attendees with the opportunity to share a meal and develop a budding relationship further.

"It is fascinating to think about how breaking bread together can fast-track a connection.”

The crux of this process is that the chances of interactions becoming awkward when sharing a meal are minimal since the main activity is not trying to hold an active conversation throughout. Such situations enable a natural flow of thought and conversation without significant effort from either party, elevating the overall ambiance of the chat.

Don’t let the conference be the only point of conversation. Be mindful that networking is also about maintaining relationships and putting effort into pursuing them once established. This is why exchanging LinkedIn profiles and contact information is crucial since it helps nurture the connection you’ve built in person once the session concludes.

“Small gestures like wishing each other during their work anniversary, birthday, etc. or reacting and commenting to their posts can go a long way in establishing a strong and natural relationship.”

In conclusion, Collegiate DECA ICDC is a fantastic springboard to launch your network but remember, it's just the beginning. Take these insights to heart - prepare effectively, step outside your comfort zone and actively cultivate your connections. Always be mindful that your network is your net worth, both professionally and personally. So, embrace the spirit of collaboration, invest your time and effort in building lasting connections and watch your relationships flourish!


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