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Navigating “The New” Networking, Classically

Networking Networking

Networking is pivotal to many businesses. Since I do not do any advertising, networking and word-of-mouth is essential to my success. When conferences started canceling because of COVID-19, I did not freak out. I had been in this situation before, and not because of a pandemic. When I first started my company, Pitch Publicity, I did not have the capital to travel to multiple conferences or meet every sales lead. If a prospective client insisted on meeting in person, I required upfront reimbursement for travel expenses, regardless of whether or not they became a client, otherwise a phone call would have to suffice. Fast-forward almost 20 years, and to this day there are still some clients I have never met face-to-face. It is a myth that networking must be in person. If this is your belief, you will be limited in talent, time and territory. You can break through the constraints of the pandemic, or other limiting situations, and effectively network in any scenario, be it online, virtual or in-person (with social distancing) using basic and classic connection skills.

Non-GMO Project

Networking on Social Media

Although you may initially be resistant to accept a friend request from a client, boss or co-worker, Facebook is a simple way to accomplish what years of networking requires with in-person meet-ups, especially if the person is active on this social media platform. You can really learn a lot about someone in a short amount of time.

Initially, I was one of those people—committed to protecting my own privacy on social media by not accepting friend requests from business contacts, but that did not last long. Once I realized the power of intel on this platform, I simply protected the ultra private side of my life by not posting it publicly. Today, if you are still hesitant to connect on Facebook or Instagram as a networking tool in business, you are missing out. Sharing small parts of your life with others can make you more approachable, relatable and accessible, without actual face-to-face time. Even if someone in your social media circle is not liking or commenting on your content, it does not mean they are not absorbing it, which means you are growing your relationship without much effort.

If you really want to get noticed on social media the point is to get social, which means you should be liking, sharing and commenting on other people’s content, especially the people you want to have a deeper relationship with. Every time you give a like, share, emoji or positive comment you are giving the other person a mini-endorphin rush, and getting noticed.

The best business networking platform, and most underutilized, in my view, is LinkedIn. If you think only job seekers are using this platform you are mistaken. I am astounded at how many people do not know how to effectively connect on LinkedIn. As a habit, I immediately connect with someone on LinkedIn, whether meeting him or her in person or being introduced on email or at a virtual conference. The reason why I do this is because once you are connected on LinkedIn, it is like having a business card that updates itself so you will be able to follow this person for the rest of his or her career. LinkedIn is powerful and proven. I have gained clients as a direct result of being active on the platform and found valuable talent. The most effective way to connect with someone is to do more than click the connect button, but also add a personal message. In that message you want to tell the person how you know him or her and why you would like to connect. Do not use generic connect messages like:

• I see you are a thought leader and an expert in your field and I’d love to have you in my network. Let me know if you’d like me to introduce you to someone within my LI network. 🙂

• I see we have mutual contacts and thought it made sense to connect. 🙂

• It’s the second time your name has popped up in my LinkedIn suggestions 🙂 I thought it might be interesting to connect.

• Would you be willing to accept my connection request? (Promise not to hammer you with a bunch of obnoxious solicitations we all get sick of! 🙂

These are actual invites I receive from contacts I do not know on a regular basis. Not sure why they all use a smile emoji with their pitch to connect, but perhaps smile emojis are best avoided, as well. Be selective with who you accept to connect with, but also take the time, when connecting with others, to personalize your request so you are not mistaken as a solicitor.

Networking on Virtual

Granted it is more work to network virtually versus randomly running into people at conferences, but surprisingly I have found some of the virtual networking platforms to be much more effective. There is some prep work involved, however. You must set up and personalize your profile, meeting schedule and actively search for professionals you want to meet with and request meetings.

The key is to not sit back and wait for others to reach out to you or rely on the platform to do the matching for you. Most importantly set aside time for one-on-one video meetups. Networking at virtual conferences has forced me to be more strategic about who I want to meet with. When I do make an appointment for a virtual one-on-one, there are no interruptions. This would happen frequently at in-person conferences where people rudely cut into your conversations. I also like that I can easily vet everyone before requesting a meeting (this is more difficult to do at a networking event). Knowing the background of who you are speaking with is valuable to avoid wasting time. Additionally, I find that conversations in the virtual space are highly productive and efficient. Plus, instead of gravitating to people I already know well, which typically happens at in-person events, I end up meeting a lot of new people to actively grow my network.

During virtual conferences, make sure you are setting time aside for the networking activities. Take advantage of breakout room meet-ups. Get in that virtual room and introduce yourself and come ready with a few conversation starters. Take inventory of who is in the breakout rooms so you can connect with that person later via LinkedIn or in the conference’s networking space. Attend the virtual keynotes and panel discussions. You may not be speaking, but the beauty of virtual events is that your voice can be heard in the public chat. Do not go crazy in the chat, but do pop in occasionally with a question, comment or compliment. This makes you visible to the other attendees who may have otherwise not known you were there. If you are extra intentional about networking in virtual spaces, this may be the best environment to get real business deals done quickly and efficiently.

Networking in Person

Depending on how isolating your year of COVID-19 has been may determine how awkward networking in person will be for you in the future. Regardless of your situation, it is a safe bet to say that networking in person will not be the same as it was in 2019, and definitely an adjustment for us all. Masks and social distancing will certainly add challenges, but with a little creativity you can counter those obstacles with techniques that worked pre-pandemic, too.

Let us start with the basics: eye contact. If masks taught us anything, it is how valuable our eyes are, especially when they are the only visible objects on our face. If you live in New York City, or another epicenter of the pandemic, you are going to need extra practice with eye contact. Even before COVID-19, making eye contact in New York with strangers was never encouraged. During the pandemic, eye contact with anyone was not advised. Heading back into social settings where eye contact is pivotal to connection, you will have to use it purposefully. Once you start practicing eye contact you will quickly discover that our eyes are pretty expressive and there is a lot of different messages you can convey with them. Eye contact is a powerful and meaningful way to connect, hands free and one you will most definitely need.

Next, breakaway from your crew. You cannot meet anyone new if you are always hanging out with your team or friends. Part of the appeal of going to in-person events is to spend time with people you know, and especially if you have been in lockdown mode for most of the year, you will want to catch up. However, make sure you are balancing your time with meeting new people, too. Running in large packs of colleagues and friends can be intimidating to other professionals who may not feel comfortable crashing into cliques. The best way to get loose from your group is to excuse yourself to the bathroom and then take a long detour back with the intention to meet a couple new contacts along the way.

If you have mastered these two simple networking techniques, and you are ready to make your mark, get in touch with your inner fashionista and create a standout signature look. One industry legend who has mastered this is founder of the American Botanical Council, Mark Blumenthal. Bushy beard and Hawaiian shirt, anyone can spot Blumenthal across the room and he has instant recognition. I remember the first time I met Stephen Lukawski, partner of Fruit d’Or Nutraceutical, at a conference with his cranberry slacks. He introduced himself to me by saying he was the “Cran-Man.” Memorable, and I am also mesmerized by how many cranberry slacks Lukawski must own. If the idea of branded wardrobes causes unnecessary stress, keep in mind it does not have to be an entire outfit; it could simply be an accessory. I once had a client in tech who would wear the most creative eyeglasses, and she had a ton of them. It was part of her look. Maybe you will wear a glittery mask. If not, find something that is identifiable and uniquely you, to help you stand out from the crowd and be remembered.

There Is Nothing Really New About Networking

COVID-19 may have thrown a curveball into how we think about networking and connecting, but in a way, it has also purged a few things that I think we can all live without. Awkward hugs or European kisses on the cheek, and handshakes from people whom we have no idea where their hands were last. These are not required for networking, and in fact, being a touchy networker can potentially get you in trouble. Social distancing may be the best blessing in disguise for serious professionals. There is really no need to touch anyone in business. You have a voice to be heard, ears to hear, eyes to see and a powerful brain to discern your next move. There is nothing really new about networking. We have all done it before and now we just need to do it better. NIE

Amy Summers launched Pitch Publicity in the face of a rapidly changing climate for communication and media relations in 2003. She has more than 20 years of experience working with major clients in natural health to increase visibility through national publicity exposure. “The Pitch with Amy Summers,” flash briefing went live in 2018 and quickly became one of the most highly ranked communications flash briefings on Amazon’s Alexa. After 500 consecutive episodes, Summers launched her second company, INICIVOX, in February 2020 to help individuals improve a wide range of soft skills centered on the complexity of communications. Explore publicity opportunities: www.pitchpublicitynyc.com. Take a communications deep dive: www.INICIVOX.com. Receive free daily pitch tips from “The Pitch with Amy Summers” flash briefing on Amazon’s Alexa, Google Play, iTunes, Spotify, Audible, Pandora and anywhere voice is heard: www.INICIVOX.com.