While the wide world of professional conferences is booming, these aren’t the only events where you can learn, meet new people, and grow your network. With so many options out there, it can be difficult to discover what is worth your time (and worth the price tag).
Read on for how to develop a more authentic network of peers and like-minded new friends without breaking the bank or fighting crowds.
Tip #1: Attend local events
If you live in or near a city, chances are you have access to a calendar of events you may not have considered before. Here are a few that may be new to you:
- Creative Mornings is a free breakfast-and-lecture series for creative professionals that takes place on one Friday morning each month in 188 cities around the world. Local speakers are invited to present a short lecture inspired by a different monthly theme. You can learn more about past and upcoming events on their website.
- Meet other professionals at events hosted by museums or galleries. For around the price of a movie ticket, cultural institutions have talks on art, current events, pop culture, and more, followed by a meet-and-greet hour. Some also host free mixers that allow you to network with friends and peers. For example, the Asia Society in New York City hosts lectures, panel discussions, networking events, and more. Visit the website of your favorite museum to see its calendar.
- You may think that public libraries only host children’s story hours and classes for seniors, but there’s so much more. To start, they offer free talks and seminars by authors and experts, book clubs, and creative writing circles. For instance, the New York Public Library has author talks, art talks, exhibitions, film nights, and happy hours, while the Boston Public Library has similar offerings, as well as concerts. To see what’s on offer, visit your local library’s website or better yet: walk in and have a look at their bulletin board.
- You can also browse the listings on Meetup for local gatherings focused on your areas of interest.
- You can sign up for Idealist Days, monthly events that are a call-to-action for people to come together, share ideas, and collaborate and take action on issues of interest.
Tip #2: Take social media connections offline
Approximately 2.34 billion people use social media around the world, and yet, we feel more isolated than ever. How about nurturing some real connections with the people at your fingertips? Look at who you are linked to across your social media platforms and pay particular attention to anyone you’ve been consistently following for some time. Send them a note and introduce yourself (or ask a common friend to do that if that feels more comfortable). Ask if they’d like to have an in-person or Skype coffee date. There’s no better way to expand your circle than by taking the time for some one-on-one interaction.
Tip #3: Take a class
If you have an interest you’d like to explore try taking a class. When you walk into a classroom with a specific goal in mind, you’re likely to meet others who not only have common interests and goals, but who also want to meet new people just like you! If this is your aim, it’s best to take an in-person class, but it’s not impossible to also interact with classmates in a digital classroom; it may require more effort since most online classes prioritize individualized study.
Take a look at class listings at your local community college or university’s continuing education school. For example, Columbia School of Professional Studies offers coursework in a variety of focus areas, and Boston University’s Center for Professional Education has coursework in financial planning, fundraising, and other areas.
You can also do an internet search on classes—such as creative writing, cooking, and computer programming—offered in your area.
Tip #4: Join a coworking space
If you’re a freelancer, part-time staffer, or self-employed, you may miss seeing the same faces every day and the buzz of being in an office environment. If that’s the case, consider joining a coworking space.
Coworking spaces have all the advantages and perks of a modern office environment, as well as some fun extras, like talks and happy hours. This isn’t a free or inexpensive option, but depending on where you are in your career, this option offers the working space you need to focus and do your best work as well as access to a new community. Check out resources like Coworker.com to learn about coworking options near you.
Tip #5: Become a volunteer
Volunteering doesn’t only do good for the community and your resume, but also your social life. You’ll work side-by-side with new people to meet a common goal and that’s an ingredient for real camaraderie. And you may even learn some new skills while you're at it.
There are many different ways to volunteer. You can approach individual organizations to see if they need help, scan Idealist.org listings for opportunities, join professional volunteering organizations like Catchafire and Taproot, or you can join local volunteer communities, such as New York Cares, which links organizations with eager volunteers in the New York City area.
Tip #6: Join a nonprofit board
If you already have a history of volunteering, are passionate about a specific cause or organization, and are motivated to take your commitment up several notches, joining a nonprofit board may be for you.
Your role on a board will largely depend on your strengths—and, in some cases, your wallet. Many boards require that you make a financial contribution to the organization you serve. But if you feel strongly enough about a cause, this can be a great long-term and engaging option. You can approach specific organizations to find out of they’re seeking new board members or you can find out about organizations that match nonprofits with willing board members with organizations like BoardAssist.
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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.