At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I wrote the blog 13 Tips to Build a Strong Network without comprehending how much of our future daily lives would involve physical distancing. Since then, approximately 200,000 people in the USA have died from the virus and nearly every person in the world has been impacted. While precautions have been implemented to reduce the spread of the virus by physically distancing ourselves, the need for social connection is as strong (and perhaps even stronger) than ever. As human beings, we NEED social connections.
Since mid-March, I have participated in hundreds of hours of virtual meetings — taught several courses, facilitated dozens of training sessions, worked with dozens of executive coaching clients, attended virtual conferences, and participated in “weeks” of online (synchronous and asynchronous) training sessions. For the past 25 years, I’ve studied, taught, and coached others about networking. In 2001, I wrote the book The Essential Network: Success Through Personal Connections. And, as a person with nearly 2,500 Linked-In connections and pride in intentionally building a strong personal and professional network over the past 40 years, I’ve wondered what more can we do in this all-encompassing virtual world we now find ourselves in. Based on my studies and experience of social networking, I propose that even in an almost complete virtual workplace you can build your network:
- Inventory what you have to offer and what you need. Focus on what you can offer your current network and the people you wish to add to it. View all others as resources and relationships. When attending a conference, get to know who the conference presenters and attendees will be, and then identify any that you want to “meet” or connect/re-connect with.
- Set realistic goals. Set a goal of making 2-4 new connections and fostering 2-4 existing connections. You might focus on identifying someone with a skill set or connection to a business that you are interested in learning more about. Perhaps you are recruiting for a job position and want to use the virtual conference to identify potential candidates. Perhaps you have an idea and want to build a relationship with someone with whom you could explore it. Or, you might be in the job market and want to identify people who can tell you more about a company or help you navigate the hiring-decision process.
- Be prepared. Pay attention to how you appear in the virtual forum (lighting, clothing, background). Remember, as Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Have your contact information ready to share with others electronically – those printed business cards will not do you any good here. Be ready to make a brief (15-30 second) self-introduction in a breakout room: name, company, role, interest in this conference, what you have to offer, and the value you add, etc. This is your “elevator speech”.
- Show up. Be an active participant in discussions. Share your ideas and perspectives to further the conversations. Ask meaningful, and relevant, questions of the speakers.
- Connect/Re-connect. Take note of people in breakout sessions with whom you would like to connect/re-connect. If the chat option is available, send a note to the participant(s) you wish to establish a further relationship. Request that the conference organizers send a list of attendees with contact information and use it to follow up with a question, a topic of shared interest, resource, etc. Look up participants via the internet and invite them to join your network. For people who are already in your network, follow up with them, and share or request a perspective or resource from the conference. Or, invite them to join you for virtual coffee to share experiences related to the conference. Remember, that some of the most valuable connections you can make are with those who can connect you with others. That is called the power of weak ties.
- Follow up. Building and maintaining a network is an ongoing and active process. Follow up within 48 hours with connections you made, as well as those with whom you reconnected. This might be via a note to thank someone for speaking or for a participant for sharing a point of view. Networking is about relationship building.
Are there other things you’ve found helpful in building your network? Has working virtually changed the way you connect and network? I’m interested in your thoughts, so please leave your comments and suggestions below.
© 2020, John L. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.