Networking is a major value proposition of countless conferences, promising to create opportunities to bring attendees seeking new buyers and suppliers together with potential business partners. But on the first morning of PCMA’s Education Conference, my networking experience introduced me to a crew of people who I most likely will never meet again. I ran three miles with members of the Skid Row Running Club, an organization that includes some convicts and addicts who are working to put their lives on a positive path. The running club, which I wrote about in April after interviewing its founder, plays a key role in giving them a goal and a community of supporters.
I learned about its importance in a conversation on our three-mile journey through downtown Los Angeles with Lorenzo. “I won’t sugarcoat it,” he said. “The club changed my life.” And Jeff, a former punk rocker, shared that being part of the club was delivering so much value that he drove in from the Valley — no easy task given L.A.’s heavy traffic — to be part of it twice each week.
There was no discussion about any of the topics listed on the conference program. Instead, we talked about Los Angeles, and we shared stories about our own lives. I didn’t trade email addresses with anyone. I chatted with at least 10 other runners, but I only got one person’s last name. There is little chance that my future will include reconnecting with any of these runners. However, the experience — which felt miles away from any activity I’ve done at the many conferences I’ve attended for PCMA — will stay with me forever. It serves as a reminder that networking does not have to be about making connections that impact what you do in the office. It can also be about making connections that impact how you look at the world.