Long gone are the days of handing somebody a business card. Say goodbye to shaking hands with every new person you meet. This new way of living in a pandemic and post-pandemic world brings to light questions about the future of networking events and how to meet new people in a COVID-concious environment.
While in-person networking events are less common right now, that doesn’t mean your days of networking are done. In fact, there are countless ways to make connections virtually that are just as strong (if not stronger) than those you might have made at an in-person event.
The equation for networking in a virtual world is relatively simple and it works well.
Consistency + Patience + Real Connections – Small Talk = Lasting Connections
Let’s break down why each of these is necessary and what they mean.
Relationships are built over time. It’s nearly impossible to reach out once virtually and have the same type of relationship as if you had seen each other in-person on multiple occasions. If you’re trying to build a relationship, make a note to have regular touchpoints. Consider a virtual coffee date, or maybe a virtual networking happy hour once a month. Add in some small touchpoints like a text message or email every other week. Over time, you’ll be able to build the same type of trust and relationships as if you had met the person… well… in-person.
Be Patient and Understanding
Some people are working from home. They may be homeschooling children or taking care of parents or loved ones who could be considered high-risk to pandemic exposure. Simply put, the workday is far from the only thing on peoples’ minds these days. You may have a more difficult time getting in front of somebody you’re hoping to connect with. Don’t take it personally. Instead, show empathy and understanding if virtual meetups fall through.
Build Real Connections
It’s important to establish commonality. Simply adding everybody to your LinkedIn network, regardless of whether you know them, is not an effective approach. Adding a stranger to your network can work if you’ve found a reason to add them or a common interest that you can explain in the invitation.
Virtual networking events are out there, so do a quick search in your area. Or, maybe you know of somebody in your area that you simply haven’t had the chance to meet. Ask a mutual friend to make a virtual introduction for you. Then, remember to find authentic talking points.
Subtract Small Talk
The sometimes dreaded small talk that used to occur at in-person networking events is now a thing of the past. No more standing around killing time before a speaker hits the stage. No more awkward silence as you’re seated at a table with strangers. Hey, maybe virtual networking isn’t so bad after all.
Instead of small talk, it’s important to make real connections (see above)—maybe through a hobby you share, or the fact that you’re both parents to children around the same age. Don’t hesitate to include personal information about yourself when you reach out.
Although our worlds have largely changed, the need for networking opportunities has never been greater. You never know when you might need to leverage an existing relationship in your professional world. Using the equation above, think about what you’re looking for in the business world. Maybe it’s a way to meet new potential customers. Maybe you’re looking for that next great job opportunity. The most important thing to remember is that people are just that—people. They’re human. Make those human and authentic connections, and you’re sure to have networking success.