12 NACDA Networking Tips

June 1, 2016 Greg Graziano

Soon you will pack your bags, readying yourself to attend the annual National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) convention. You’ll have your professional clothing, your casual gear, and a full stack of business cards.

These are the items you will physically take with you to the conference. There are also things you should carry with you, mentally, that will prepare you for seventy-two of the most important hours of your entire calendar. This yearly gathering of the best and brightest in the industry (you included) is an opportunity for you to grow, to learn, and to advance your skills

There is much to consider as you jump into your car or onto a plane. Whether this is your first time attending NACDA or your fifteenth, below is sage advice and words of wisdom from your colleagues in college athletics.


“It’s 70% of who you know, 20% of who knows you, and 10% of what you know.”
– Craig Pintens, Sr. Assoc. AD for Marketing and Public Relations, University of Oregon

“Be memorable and approachable. I wear loud pants and crazy hats and they are conversation starters with people that I might do business with. Now, does that work to become the next ‘athletic director’? Don’t know. But wear a bow tie or do something that makes you stand out. If you wear khakis and your school polo, you’re going to just blend in.”
– Zac LogsdonOwner and CEO of Old Hat Creative and Old Hat Sports Branding

“As valuable as networking is perceived, you still need to invest in yourself with hard work, learning, and making yourself indispensable.”
– Tariq Ahmad, Social Media Business Manager for IBM and Social Media Adjunct Professor. Founder #smsports, host #smsportschat 

“Your network is one of your most valuable life resources, it is not mutually exclusive to business. You never know how the paths of those you have worked with and those you have had connected with in your personal life will cross down the road. Respect and gratitude go a very long way. We live in a “small world,” so it’s important to remember to always do your best, view every experience as an opportunity to learn something new and never lose sight of where you began on your journey.
– Amber Lilyestrom, Branding Strategist + Business Coach (former NACMA Board Member and Assoc. AD for Marketing at Univ. of New Hampshire)

“The key to successful networking is being genuine and investing in building lifelong, fruitful relationships with other industry professionals. Take time to do your homework, find and leverage personal connections, and have an invested interest in the lives and careers of others. Set aside 20 minutes each day to regularly check-in with mentors, former colleagues and key contacts, actively connect friends with related needs and interests, and consider ways to demonstrate thought leadership via a blog, website, or social media.”
Brian Gainor, Director of Global Sports & Entertainment Consulting at GMR Marketing

“Always be interested in the person you are talking to. Ask how you can help them. Find out something about them that is personal. If you only care about what you get, you’ll likely end up with nothing. But helping others can pay off with a great friendship or relationship and you never know what might happen when you are there for someone else.”
Troy Kirby, Sports Business Consultant / Tao of Sports

“It’s no coincidence that social channels are called “networks”.  Face-to-face communication is invaluable, but connecting online can help bridge you with peers in your industry or thought leaders and organizations that may set an example for you to learn from. The network you build (in person or via social media) will be willing to collaborate and share with you, so remember that it’s important to add value in your social conversation. Don’t just post for the sake of posting. Broaden your network by extending your personal brand to the social side.”
– Katie Cavender, Assistant Commissioner, Strategic Communications, Mountain West Conference

“Social Media can be a great way to begin to network.  It is a great way to get a feel for someone and a great way to share information about yourself, even though it’s not ‘face-to-face’. I’m surprised at how many of the professional relationships that I have now have started through Twitter interaction.  The key, though, is to be genuine.  Be genuinely interested in the folks that you meet and be genuine in how you portray who you are. This approach will help you determine whether this relationship can really be mutually beneficial or not.  Make no mistake; every worthwhile relationship is beneficial to both parties.”
– Jim Abbott, Athletic Director, Oklahoma City University (NAIA) 

“Handwritten notes are a lost art. I send a hand written thank you note after every demo or sales meeting I have.  It’s a great way to demonstrate that you’re willing to invest in the relationship and differentiates you from others.”
– Kevin BarefootDirector of Sales and Marketing, WinAD

One of my most successful networking strategies is to connect with people online before an event. If you already have a relationship online it makes it even easier to engage in a conversation at an event in real life. Rather than feeling nervous, anxious or wondering what to say, you will already know a bit about each other based on conversations you might have had on Twitter. As an example, when I meet folks from Twitter in real life, they already know I went to three Pac-12 schools, like sports, marketing and Chipotle. It might be little things but it’s a starting point for a conversation that breaks the ice and can lead to a more meaningful relationship.”
– Christopher Lee,“Sportsologist” and Professor, Marketing in Sport and Recreation, Temple University

“’Networking’ is a pretty fuzzy, catch-all term, that carries with it some baggage. As an executive recruiter, when I think of networking these days, I view it through the lens of “emotional intelligence”. Specifically, I think the manner in which someone attempts to network with others provides a window into their emotional intelligence. That can be a good or bad thing for them; good if they communicate in a way that expresses high self-awareness, professionalism and likability, bad if the opposite. I can’t count the number of times someone has tried to “network” with me by asking how I can help them, before developing any rapport or common ground. The people I know that are good networkers are a pleasure to spend time with. They are authentic, unselfish, and think long-term about relationships.”
– Jeff Yocom, Founder & President, Marquee Search Inc.; Sports & Entertainment Executive Recruiter 

“I am a big believer in Bob Beaudine’s Power of Who. You must really build mutually beneficial relationships and help people who can in turn connect you with others who can open doors for you.  But keep in mind it is all about reciprocity – be a giver as well as a taker.”
– Dr.  Bill Sutton, Founding Director, Sport & Entertainment MBA/MS Graduate Program, University of South Florida & Principal, Bill Sutton & Associates

Please visit AudienceView at booth #304 in the NACDA exhibit hall on June 11-12, 2017 and follow the conversation on Twitter via @audienceview and #NACDA17, the official conference hashtag.


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