Succeed at your next professional gathering

Making the most of your next networking experience will reap benefits in your career and life.


People gathered and talking at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show
Approach your next networking opportunity with purpose, confidence and a positive attitude to get the most out of your experience.Photo by Roger Billings

When is your next opportunity to meet new people? Grow your network? Learn something new? Build relationships and ultimately advance your career?

The obvious answer is the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show, and I hope to see you in Phoenix this month. Along with that event, upcoming social occasions at your golf facility, community business mixers and chapter events with your colleagues will undoubtedly land on your calendar. In this month’s Career column, we will cover professional manners and decorum at professional gatherings, so you can focus on making the most of every interaction and confidently step into 2024.

Purpose: First, what is the purpose of a business mixer or similar event? The simple answer is people. The purpose is to connect with people, have meaningful conversations, and find opportunities to learn from and serve others. Think people, not positions. For example, at professional gatherings at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show such as mixers and sponsor events, most of the attendees will have similar positions and titles as you. Focus on the other areas that make the people you meet unique. Be intentional to find connectors and common interests that go beyond the basics of job title and golf facility.

Second, you can have a more defined purpose of meeting particular individuals as part of growing your network. Do you have a network inventory? Simply put, it is considering who is part of your network with whom you want to strengthen your relationship and also whom you want to meet and begin a connection. As you consider your career goals, use your network inventory to reach your goals. For example, if you have a goal of working in a particular type of golf facility, such as a resort, then at your next chapter event, seek out a colleague at that type of facility to ask questions and learn from their experiences and network. 

Prepare: Take great care with the moments before you walk through the door to your next event. Be intentional to put yourself in a good place physically and mentally during those moments leading up to the event. If you consider yourself an introvert, this can be a key aspect in learning to enjoy professional mixer events and growing your network. Arrive early to allow time in your vehicle to calm your mind, listen to your favorite music and catch your breath. Learn relaxation techniques to calm your nerves. Review some open-ended questions that can be your go-to conversation starters in unsure situations. Lastly, focus on a realistic goal for the event, such as challenging yourself to meet and connect with one person — or perhaps three people. Prepare to engage in meaningful conversations and lay the groundwork to build lasting relationships rather than aiming to shake hands with 20 people and having shallow introductions.

Prosper: Practice walking into a room with good posture, smiling face and engaged demeanor. Be intentional with your body language to convey you want to be there and are open to listening and engaging. When in doubt, ask a question, then listen well. Many golf industry professionals love to talk, so asking your go-to open-ended questions can be a lifesaver. My favorite is to ask what a person enjoys doing outside of work. This can be a great pathway into finding connectors and developing meaningful conversations.

Most business mixers and events will include complimentary food and drinks. The priority is people, so be mindful to partake in the refreshments as an ancillary part of the function. A general guideline for decorum at a professional mixer with appetizers and drinks generally includes one drink and a plate with up to three items on it at one time. Be intentional to keep your right hand available to shake hands and not hold a cold/wet drink that will result in a poor first impression from a hastily dried hand before shaking hands.

Be encouraged. Your efforts to make the most of your next professional gathering will reap many benefits, both in your career and life. GCSAA members experience heightened career satisfaction through relationships with others in the golf industry. What a joy to connect with others who can relate on a deeper level due to your shared life experiences. Now you are ready to step into your next event in Phoenix or anywhere as you build meaningful relationships along with career success in 2024.

Carol D. Rau, PHR, has been a career consultant and speaker with GCSAA since 2005 and specializes in golf and turf industry careers. Rau is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local GCSAA conferences and teaches GCSAA webinars.