7 Tips for Networking Even in a Pandemic

Issue 133 — June 29, 2020

One thing COVID-19 has done is make life easier for introverts.

If you break out in a cold sweat at the thought of networking, in the sense of walking into a large room full of people you don’t know and trying to make connections that will be useful to you in your professional life, while balancing a beverage — it might seem in first blush that at least that worry is over.

But the reality is your network is your net worth.

I’m fairly extroverted, or at least I have learned to be. If you saw my social media post about my father last week, you know I had a good role model on that score.

But my stomach still churns before a big social event. A couple years ago, back in the day when we could actually be together en masse I was getting ready to go to a gala fundraiser and fretting about — almost everything.

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What to wear. No, I can’t wear that red silk jacket that I wore the last two years again. I know everyone will be there in amazing, sparkly evening clothes and I don’t even have those in my closet.

Even more stomach churning: Who do I need to be prepared to meet to make the best of the occasion? How will I do that elegantly? Whose name I should remember but will be embarrassed to have forgotten? What if I end up standing alone in the back of the room? Ugh.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I have had the opportunity to meet people from the grassroots to the highest halls of power during my career. I never get over the insecurity before an event, large or small.

Events should be networking heaven, but they are actually personal hell.

What to do?

Enter a pandemic, just to complicate matters. And though it brings many new worries, you might be breathing a sigh of relief that you don’t need to think about networking anymore.

But not so fast. It’s more important than ever to maintain existing relationships and continue to build your network. This is especially true if you have been laid off or furloughed, or if you need to continue to build your professional relationships and customer base to keep your business going when people are pulling back on expenditures.

As Dorie Clark says in an article on “Personal Branding for Introverts” in the Harvard Business Review, there is a difference between being an introvert and being shy. This distinction can be helpful: “Despite the common misperception that all introverts are shy, and vice versa, they’re two very different phenomena,” she says.

Let’s start with a step back.

As you know, I believe passionately that the world turns on human connections.

There is huge value in being among people. And just as in real life, it is so important to show up in this world as the authentic person you are or want to be when things are in a state of disruption. It’s critical to connect and deepen relationships with others to be able to accomplish your work, and to have a fulfilling life. You simply can’t accomplish that much alone. And all of us get where we are with the support of others whether we know it or not.

Proximity helps to animate mutual support based in trust. And trust is the essential heart of any positive human connection, including business relationships. So how do you get that when social distancing and working from home are the norm?

I’ve noticed that women tend to see networking as primarily relational, whereas men tend to network more transactionally, getting right down to business.

Of course it’s essential to be friendly, authentic, and generous to others. But networking must also be done with purpose and intention if it is to be effective. To network with purpose, two exchanges will usually occur: an ask and an offer. So before I give you my tips for networking in a pandemic and as we are still in social distancing mode, I suggest that you get into that mindset of make an offer — make an ask.

Asking for what we want by name is a practice women need to learn, and to learn we must practice, if we are to build the lives and careers we want. It’s part of owning our power and knowing our worth.

In every networking opportunity, identify in advance what you want from the interchange. And at least once during the conversation, “Ask for it by name.”

And make an offer. What do you have that the other person wants or needs? If she or he does not tell you, ask for that information by name too. Is it something you can offer to provide? If so, say so, and be sure to follow through. If not, say so as well, and offer an alternative that is something you can deliver on.

Once you have made an ask and an offer in a networking situation, you have created a mutually beneficial relationship.

Relationships that are mutually beneficial are more likely to be sustained and grow over time and to be more egalitarian.

Social distancing is something we have never encountered before. Yet for our mental health, it is now more important than ever to connect with the people in your life. Luckily that can still be done digitally.

Talk about a powerful network! Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism 2019 cohort has held a number of informal zoom get togethers to stay connected and offer mutual support.

Here are 7 Tips for Digital Networking

  1. Write down your networking goals and then create a networking map of people you want to meet or nurture to realize your intention.
  2. Craft a simple but meaningful text message for the most important people on your contact list and start reaching out. Start with a genuine interest in how they are.
  3. Take the lead — pick a date and invite people to a virtual mastermind meeting or other structured discussion. You can turn a mere contact into a solid relationship. Perhaps you knew someone for years but have not taken the time to cultivate that relationship.This is the perfect time.
  4. Share your strengths and demonstrate your resilience in this new virtual landscape. Sometimes helping other people connect, putting them into a mutually beneficial room (or screen in this case) leads to a productive conversation that wouldn’t have happened otherwise
  5. Identify additional people you need to contact. Find them on LinkedIn, send a DM on Instagram or ask someone in your network to give an email introduction. Be intentional about making a connection. Keep your own social media profiles up to date. Remember the mantra — make an offer, make an ask.
  6. Ask your mentees or mentors how they are doing and if you can assist them in some way. Show your gratitude for the relationship — genuine gratitude is quite different than random shout-outs on social media. Send a heartfelt note via email, text or greeting card. Send a compliment in a private message during a Zoom meeting.
  7. Keep in Touch (K.I.T.) — just pick up the phone and call someone, unscheduled and unannounced. I’ve been making one or two calls like this every time I am out walking, which I try to do every day to stay sane during this pandemic. I am always delighted by the reaction — a combination of surprise and delight on their end.
Socially distanced walks have been very rewarding networking opportunities for me.

Now do me a favor. Choose a person with whom you’d like to network with purpose and consciously go through the process. Then let me know: How did it go? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time? What follow up do you need or want to do regarding either your offer or your ask.

With any luck our cities will have opened up and while we might still need to social distance for a while, we will increasingly have opportunities to form those relationships in real life. But whenever and wherever we are these tips will still stand you in good stead as you build your career and lead from wherever you are.

You can listen to my “Power TO You” podcast on this topic to get more tips and a download with all of them. Subscribe, rate. and review the podcast if you want to make me really happy!

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