If your plan is to find a job in the near future, get promoted or grow your client base there’s no better way to do that then to network. However, given the pandemic you might be wondering how you can connect with others in this challenging time. Even though we are socially distancing and most of our encounters are virtual it is possible to continue to network but in a somewhat different way. Here are five tips to help your networking efforts.
If you want to grow and strengthen your network you’ll want to attend as many virtual events as possible, whether they are social or business related. The more visible you are the more likely you are to meet someone who has a job, needs your services or knows someone who does. Most organizations and associations are now conducting their meetings via Zoom or another virtual platform. Some groups are offering events that allow you to mingle at a virtual table or in a “room” with the familiar hum of mingling conversation in the background. Do some research and you’ll likely find plenty of events you can attend. Also, don’t turn down virtual social events. Your personal connections are just, if not more, important to your career goals as your business contacts are.
Show up five minutes early
When attending events, log in five minutes before the event starts and talk to other early birds. This is a great time to get to know someone a little bit better when you aren’t competing for airspace. If you’re wondering what to talk about there is a plethora of topics you can discuss. One easy way to get a conversation going is to comment on the other person’s background. Maybe they have some interesting art on the wall or some books you could ask about. You can inquire about their virtual background if it’s not the usual Zoom provided art. You could ask how your conversation partner celebrated the holidays. The pandemic required some creative ways to get together with family and friends for the holidays, so we all have something to share about it. Asking about New Year’s goals or resolutions is another great topic.
Keep your video on
Because we are all dealing with Zoom fatigue it can be tempting to turn your video off so you can check out a bit. But, when you do that you send a signal that you are not engaged, interested or available. People are less likely to include you in the conversation or want to get to know you. We are visual creatures; we like to see a real face when we are talking to someone.
I remember talking to a service provider on Zoom and I was having some bandwidth problems. I had to turn my video off to increase my internet stability. I noticed as soon as I did, the person I was talking to seemed uncomfortable talking to just my picture. Her eyes wandered around and her body language suggested she wasn’t sure I was listening. Once I was able to turn my video back on the connection between us instantly changed and she seemed much more comfortable. The lesson? Video on says you are present, paying attention and want to connect with others.
Have virtual coffee dates
Before the pandemic we would get together with people at coffee shops or a bar for happy hour. While we can’t do that now, you can certainly meet with someone virtually and each have your own beverage of choice. You could even send a gift card for a coffee shop to the person you’re meeting with for them to enjoy another time.
Search your LinkedIn connections and reach out to people you haven’t seen for a while or who you would like to get to know better. When extending the invitation, simply say you haven’t seen this person for a while and thought it would be nice to catch up. The virus has created many more reasons to reach out to people.
Keep in touch
Don’t stop connecting with someone after one meeting. Stay in touch with the people you’ve met. Send links to articles that you know they would enjoy. Mail a handwritten note letting them know how much you appreciated the get together. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn if you aren’t already connected. Think of networking as planting seeds. The first meeting is just that, the time you plant the seed. To create a stronger connection, you have to cultivate it. The follow-up touches after your initial meeting is like water, fertilizer and sun on the seeds; helping them to grow.
Don’t let this time of social distancing keep you from growing and strengthening your connections. It is possible to still network.
Related: The New Etiquette Norm for Greetings