Networking during a Pandemic

How to network during a pandemic

I never imagined I would have to consider how we can network more effectively during a pandemic, but here we are. As  we slide back and forth between re-opening phases, professional networking events, and in-person meetings remain in limbo or canceled altogether. How are professionals supposed to grow and nurture their connections during a coronavirus? We all need to be considering how we can grow our businesses and careers as we face this global recession.

 Making new connections: What do you bring?

The first principle of networking – whether virtually or in person – is to understand that networking is not synonymous with selling. The second is to ask what you bring to the relationship. Ask yourself: Why would this person want to connect with me? If you reach out only when you need help, others will withdraw. Cultivate relationships in good times so that folks will be there when you need them. Ask people in your network what you can do for them – perhaps you can help them make new connections with your colleagues or people in your network. Before you make a new connection, make sure you are clear on your purpose – for instance, do you want to learn about a company, an industry, a technology, an interest, or a hobby? Find out who the leaders (companies or individuals) are in that area. Then determine who you already know in this area, and who might they be able to introduce you to. Your personal contacts and social media network are two great sources for this.

Make connections before your next career move

Don’t make the mistake of finding yourself in the market for a job and realizing you’ve neglected your network. Given the demands of our professional and personal lives, it’s worth taking the time to cultivate and maintain our connections. If you are job hunting, don’t come out and ask your contacts for a job – instead, ask them who you can connect with. Most people want to help, but they might feel uncomfortable if you are too direct. So instead of “Are you hiring for XYZ opportunity?”, try this: “Would you be willing to share some ideas or names of people I can reach out to help me secure XYZ opportunity?”

How to network at virtual meetings

Virtual meetings are a relatively new concept. Obtaining attendee lists may not be feasible, but you can easily get speaker and panel representatives, along with their company names. Consider emailing these individuals after the meeting, to ask questions or offer feedback. Ask if they would be willing to speak with you briefly to brainstorm on individuals and companies in the space you are targeting. Take a risk and put yourself out there – the worst that can happen is that they will say no. Finally, consider how you can bring value to a meeting – if you or one of your clients participate in a session, it could open new opportunities to expand your network. Creating and maintaining virtual relationships is now fundamental to maintaining mental health as well as business success. Leaders, you can help by encouraging employees to attend online networking events, webinars, and chat rooms in groups not specifically related to their jobs.

The 3 Ups of Professional Networking

The most important parts of networking are what I call the “3 Ups”. Show up, Follow up, and Catch up.

In pre-covid19 days, we attended in-person events, meetings and conferences.

The 3 Ups looked like the following.

1) We would show up at a conference or networking event. This is obviously the most important part because you wouldn’t meet new people if you chose to stay at home or office.

2) When you returned home from a conference or meeting you would review the business cards from the people you met. I meant you would refer to the notes you jotted down on the cards, so you could include key topics to refer back to when you would promptly follow up.

3) You would reach out and catch-up with each person.

Catching Up During Coronavirus

New Normal Networking still uses the “3 Ups” but the order of importance has shifted. We used to pay for expensive meetings, conference events, tickets, flights, and hotels. We would need to account for the time out of the office spent on travel and attendance. Today it’s much easier not to show up to a virtual meeting when there is less skin in the game.

Showing up and following up are still essential parts of networking but catching up is key. Flip your calendar back to February 2019. Jot down the names of each interesting person you met that month. This includes phone calls, coffees, lunch meetings, etc. Continue to jot down these names for each month until you reach March 1, 2020. As you will recall, March is when self-isolation and social distancing began and we were faced with our new reality. It is crucial that you include the meeting, conference, event name in your follow-up emails. Doing so makes it much easier to search your emails. If you don’t include this it will be a little more work to search all of your sent emails during and after the date of each conference, but this should not stop you. Don’t make your catch-up emails a stressful  task.

Set yourself a daily goal of reaching back out to 10 people each morning. Add an asterisk next to each name on your list as you do this. When you have your video or phone calls be sure to ask plenty of open-ended questions and actively listen. The key to networking nicely pre, peri, or post-pandemic is to find ways to provide value for your connections.  

Show up. Follow up. Catch up.

The next time you register to attend a virtual  meeting be sure to show up. Follow up with the people you enjoy most. After some time has passed, send an email to schedule a time to catch up. Self-isolation or working from home can be a lonely endeavor, your catch up will be greatly appreciated.

 

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