Before most of us began to work remotely and depend on Zoom calls and virtual conferences to stay productive, finding the time to network was hard. If you’ve nudged networking aside because you’re “sick of looking at your computer screen” you may want to reconsider the role networking may play in your current and future career.
With uncertainty in the economy, fluctuation in employment numbers and a resurgence of coronavirus, reconnecting with and expanding your network offers stability and a path to new opportunities.
Intellectually, we know the benefits of networking. Through our network we learn, expand our sphere of influence, open ourselves up to new ideas, meet new people, and advance our careers. Still, many of us don’t like to network. We’re reluctant to put ourselves out there and ask for help. Exposing a need to others can be scary.
Here’s the flip side. The act of asking for help feeds into an essential part of being human. We humans are wired to help; we’re just waiting to be asked.
Armed with this fresh perspective, let’s combine a review of basic guidelines with suggestions for networking virtually.
Connect on a personal level
Even though you may be anxious to make your ask, start the conversation with “How are you?” and a short personal story
Establish common ground/need
If you are meeting for the first time, strengthen your connection by identifying colleagues or activities in common
Make a specific ask
People want to help, but “Hey, can I pick your brain?” doesn’t get results. A specific ask gives your partner direction for making an introduction or a referral
It can be hard to ask, so if you’re asking, follow up quickly with a thank you and recap of your ask. If you are being asked, offer a timeline for an answer or an update on progress
If You Are Asking For Guidance
Do your research
Before you ask, make sure you are asking the right thing of the right person
Our highest recall is for three facts. Your request is most memorable and repeatable when it’s supported by no more than three facts or examples
Listen and adapt in real time
If you’ve made a specific ask that doesn’t pan out, use open-ended questions to expand the conversation.
Here are four examples
- Do you have any contacts in an adjacent industry?
- In your experience have you ever been in a similar situation?
- Who is the most creative thinker you know?
- How would she/he approach this?
Follow up in a timely manner
Begin with “Thank You” then recap what you’re asking from your partner
End your follow up with “How can I help you?”
After all, networking is a two-way street
If You Are Being Asked
Listen more than talk
Sometimes what’s most important isn’t immediately apparent. Give the conversation time to develop and create mutual benefit
Offer lessons learned from your own experience
It is often easier to understand growth if it’s given within the context of real experience
Don’t assume too much responsibility
Most of us are problem-solvers, ready to jump in and fix at a moment’s notice. Assuming too much responsibility denies the person asking ownership of the process and may cause unnecessary stress. Rather than open-ended help, offer specific assistance like a mock interview or reviewing a resume
Once there has been an initial conversation, check in once on the progress
Going forward let the person know that they can check in with you as needed
Networking At Virtual Conferences
Have your elevator pitch prepared
Be prepared with a succinct pitch answering three questions: who you are, what you do, why it’s valuable
Practice one story to tell
People remember stories and they’ll remember you if you tell one. Make it short and be sure it supports your elevator pitch
Join the LinkedIn groups ahead of time and meet other attendees
Many virtual conferences have LinkedIn groups for networking. Join the groups and have a question ready that will begin a conversation. Connect on LinkedIn with the other members of the group
Join the conference early and use Chat or Slack to connect before sessions begin
Get comfortable with the conversation interfaces and use them to ask questions and start conversations. Have one sentence about yourself ready to share with other attendees
Join discussion forums/breakout rooms and contribute
Breakout rooms are not the time to sit back. If the breakout conversation is interesting, message your group and ask to continue the conversation after the sessions are over
Sign up for or offer to be a mentor/coaching session
To help attendees meet each other, many conferences offer coaching sessions. As either a coach or participant, this is a good way to meet and connect
Not Getting The Results You Want? Set Up Your Own Event
Team up with a colleague and invite a few people who don’t know each other to a Zoom networking/cocktail event. Limit attendance to eight. Over 60-90 minutes, everyone has an opportunity to speak. In advance, send out an attendee list with LinkedIn profiles. Kick off the event with introductions and an analog activity like “Five Numbers about Me” where attendees can guess what the numbers represent. This is a quick activity that helps break the ice and creates common ground. Have 1or 2 structured questions that guide the conversation. Dorie Clark and Alisa Cohn’s article in Harvard Business Review have great suggestions for structuring your event.
In this time of disruption, and separation, networking brings us closer together. Networking allows us to grow professionally and contribute to the growth and success of others. Summer is the perfect time to reconnect with and grow your network.
Be well and stay safe
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You can also check out Forbes.com/CFO blog where I write about communicating with and motivating teams.