The worst time to start thinking about how you’ll network in this situation is when the camera is pointing at you!
How are you feeling about getting ‘back in the room’ - excited? Nervous? Unsure? From building your personal brand through to retention and recruitment, networking is a key skill, but one that many people are uncertain about in the ‘post-covid’ environment. Here are some tips I’ve found useful recently:
Commit to making it work. Networking takes time and energy, so you have to know why you’re doing it. Be clear about your goals - are you trying to increase your influence? Learn something? Expand your job opportunities? Whatever it is, make sure that you’re clear. Goals animate and motivate you, and give your networking a sense pf purpose.
Don’t treat networking as a ‘luxury extra’. A lot of us have got really used to being behind a computer screen all day, and many people will find it much more comfortable to stay there than to deliberately go out and build, and deepen, relationships. There are, of course, some advantages to the virtual world, but grabbing the opportunities presented by both being good at ‘working a room’ and ‘being online’ will help you achieve your goals better and faster.
Be prepared. Attention spans have changed during ‘the covid times’, so just mumbling through some small talk and hoping for the best won’t cut it. Be aware that everyone will be talking about covid and ‘these strange times’, and so prepare to be the person able to have more interesting conversations - remember my ‘networking golden rule’ - if you ask boring questions, you get boring answers! Do some advance research using list guests and be prepared with ideas relevant to the event - industry knowledge, ideas about how things might improve or change in the future, and so on.
Have an attitude of empathy. People will have a range of different feelings about being back in a room with others - some will be enthusiastic, others will be cautious. In the same way as you should always aim to be the best-dressed person at an event (you do aim for that, don’t you?) aim to be the person who’s most fluent in the ‘do’s and don’t’s’ of the post-covid environment. Check with the organisers about appropriate behaviour, and ask people how they feel about social distance, handshakes, masks etc and aim to make sure that everyone you meet feels comfortable and safe.
Use digital tools - business cards are (probably) out, and you need to be on top of ‘non-contact’ ways of networking and keeping in touch. Are your own social media channels up to date and showing you at your best? If you’re able to see a guest list, can you do some research online, possibly even connecting with people in advance of an event?
Be ‘camera-ready’ for ‘online and real’ networking. Many events now are setting up ‘mini-studios’ where the people at the event can network with others who are attending online. These moments of networking tend to be strictly time-limited, so be prepared for these - have your ‘elevator pitch’ ready, and make sure that you can describe yourself, and the value you bring, in short, pithy sentences. The worst time to start thinking about how you’ll network in this situation is when the camera is pointing at you!
Follow-up. Almost all of the value in networking lies in the follow-up, but far too many people leave this to chance, or decide after an event how they’re going to follow-up. This is particularly important in the ‘hybrid event’ where business cards are out, and some o your networking may be online. Have easy digital means of staying in touch, and know what your strategy is for maintaining contact. My rule of thumb is to always give value before asking for it. In other words, instead of sending someone a message asking for coffee (which is quite a big ask), send them some useful information, or connect them to someone, or offer a favour.
Enjoy it. I don’t mean this facetiously. If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it should be that being with other people is a precious activity, and one we shouldn’t’t take for granted. Enjoy the chance to chat, to relax, to be stimulated by other perspectives and to have conversations you know aren’t being recorded or risk being interrupted by a technical failure somewhere. Oh, and enjoy the coffee made by someone else!