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Making the Most of Professional Organizations

By Kit Harrington Hayes

One of the best ways to build a personal network is by joining professional organizations. In addition to providing access to professional contacts, affiliating with these groups can also provide credibility in your field and contact with thought-leaders and their ideas or technology.

Participation in local chapter organizations puts you elbow-to-elbow with insiders and people who are working in the companies or industries you're trying to penetrate. Typically, members are individuals who are committed to their profession, doing what it takes to stay current, and often willing to share information, contacts and leads. They want to help others gain a toehold or advance in their careers.

There are several ways to maximize the value of affiliating.
1. Attend the local chapter meetings. Speakers present valuable insights into "hot topics" related to your field of interest. By listening and asking questions, you'll become well informed and up-to-date.

2. Meet like-minded people. Most meetings facilitate schmoozing. With your elevator speech modified to fit the occasion, you can work the crowd, meeting people who share your career path or goals. Ask them about their journeys, current industry trends and their take on the market. Test your perceptions.

3. Greet new arrivals. Walking into a room full of strangers may be your worst nightmare. Try positioning yourself near the entry to welcome other people as they arrive. Introduce yourself as a guest or new member and start up a conversation. If they are new, you can commiserate; if they are established members, you can ask them to introduce you to others. If you've done your research, you may know of particular individuals you want to meet.

4. Join a committee. Volunteers run most professional organizations. While there may be a professional administrator, there are always tasks that need to be done by members. Find out if any board members need help. Join the membership committee to recruit new members. Offer to post job opportunities on the Web site or to produce an email to companies seeking job listings. Join the program committee to plan events and solicit speakers. Of the countless opportunities, these are some of the more visible roles.

5. Publish an article. Many local professional organizations produce newsletters and other written communications and they are often looking for material. Write an article that will give you visibility among the members. If you have been doing your homework, you may have gathered information that people stressed out in their jobs may not know. You can contribute to their learning.

6. Initiate a special interest group. Some organizations are quite large with more than 100 people attending chapter meetings. Find out if there are small spin-off groups that also meet regularly to focus on a particular topic. You can join an existing group or start your own.

7. Offer to present a topic in your area of expertise. Let the membership see you in action. Make sure you plan thoroughly and rehearse your presentation. Now you are advancing from creating visibility to creating buzz.

8. Serve as a panelist. Less demanding than being the featured presenter, speaking as part of a panel of experts provides both visibility and the opportunity to work with other leaders or innovators within your profession. When people have an opportunity to observe the quality of your work, they become your champions.

9. Attend national/international conferences. While this can be expensive, it's an ideal way to meet people, hear experts present on cutting-edge topics, and research opportunities to serve your profession at the national/international level. When you return, you can write an article about the conference in the chapter newsletter, again maximizing your visibility.

10. Network with your colleagues. With the entry provided by your membership, propose one-on-one meetings with your colleagues to get to know them better. Explore ways that you can help one another achieve your goals.

Professional organizations can provide the perfect setting for developing a more powerful personal network. By following these 10 steps, you can take full advantage of the opportunities presented by these groups. Your network, well nurtured, can serve throughout your career as your best line of defense in uncertain economic times. In growth periods your phone may ring off the hook.