Networking has always been one of the best ways to secure your next opportunity. With major disruptions to our economy, many people are facing uncertain employment prospects or have been made redundant, and networking is still one of the best ways to create new opportunities.
From traditional to online events
2020 has brought many changes to the way we live and work, and networking is no exception. Gone are the ‘traditional’ networking events where you would introduce yourself to someone new, shake hands, exchange physical business cards and follow up awkwardly via email some days later. Now, professional development events have shifted to the online realm, hosted via a videoconferencing platform and involving dozens of attendees, many of whom you won’t get a chance to interact with.
However, if you’ve attended any such events in recent months you may have noticed they often allocate breakout periods where you are put into groups to discuss the topic. This is your chance! Three or four new people that you can ‘meet’ and network with – that’s three or four more people than you knew before the event started, and they might become valuable connections!
Getting back on the networking horse
First things first: introduce yourself! Don’t let this golden opportunity pass you by – it’s your chance to share a bit about yourself and get your foot in the networking door. So don’t just mumble a quick: “Hi, I’m Emma from Sydney.” What a wasted moment! Instead try something like: “Hi, I’m Emma working in Transport for NSW leading the Agile Practice. I’m always keen to hear from people who might be able to share Agile case studies with our Agile Community of Practice, particularly government case studies”. You’ve explained a bit about yourself, what you might be looking for and also credentialled yourself for the group work.
Remember though it’s not all about you – the key is listening to what others are saying. Avoid the temptation to check your phone, or multitask, or dream of a glass of wine while the other people are introducing themselves. Listen to their introductions. Who is in your group? Note their names and something about them. Could they help you with your next opportunity? Perhaps they have interesting insights and would be good to bounce ideas off in the future? Maybe they are starting out their career journey and you could help them!
Top tip: keep personal notes about the other attendees – it’s as simple as taking notes in a Word document while you chat. Just as you used to keep business cards, keep a note of the people you meet as you may end up attending another event with them. It’s always flattering to be remembered, and think how much better you will come across if you can reference where you’ve met them before or something personal about them.
Use the digital world to your advantage
And then… time’s up! You’re thrown back to the main event and are no longer with your group. But the networking doesn’t have to end here.
Look at the chat feature – if you are using Zoom or a similar system, the chat box can be used to post questions to the host, but more importantly you can usually direct your chat to individuals. Use this feature to contact the people from your group. Send a message to each of them, even if they don’t seem like a good contact at the time – you never know where it might lead.
Make sure that you send these messages before the Q&A starts. There is always a Q&A at the end of an event and many people don’t stick around for it. So strike while the iron is hot and nail down those potential contacts before they disappear.
Crafting the right message
But what should you say to them? Start by mentioning something positive from the group work. Perhaps you have something in common or you were interested in something they talked about – anything that will help them remember you in the future. If you’re really keen, share your LinkedIn and suggest they might like to connect.
The trick – as with any networking strategy – is to balance that ‘keen to network’ approach against being overly pushy or creepy. Remember that many people are cautious about making new connections, and they may not want to be your new best friend on LinkedIn. That’s totally fine. By giving them the choice to connect with you, they are likely to feel more positive about the interaction.
Digital networking is what you make of it
Also remember to pay it forward – can you offer ideas, advice or guidance to someone in your group? Perhaps they had questions about change management and you suggested some interesting approaches. Suddenly, you are no longer just a random group member to them, but an expert in change management. They are now more likely to reach out to you if there is a potential opportunity, and certainly ahead of your other group members who didn’t offer this kind of help.
As with all networking, the more events you go to the more chances you’ll have of making new connections. But before you fill up every night with random events, think about only attending the ones that are relevant to your work or will have like-minded people attending. Taking a strategic approach to digital networking can create a whole new world of opportunities. Who knows what opportunities may await you.
To find out more about thriving in a changing business world, contact the experts at PM-Partners or call us on 1300 70 13 14 today.