Favorite Five: 2021 Networking Tips—Virtual, Hybrid, and In-Person
If you are anything like me, 2020 consisted of a lot of sweatpants, puzzles, and Netflix. Gone were the days of throwing on my blazer, grabbing my business cards, and leaving work to drive into the City to network and cultivate new industry relationships. Although this time was challenging for a multitude of reasons, we all learned to adapt, look for silver linings, and embrace digital communication tools. And now, with 14 months of social distancing monotony settling in, we can finally see the horizon. The summer weather is quickly approaching, vaccines are rolling out throughout the Commonwealth, and the idea of in-person networking is no longer a farfetched dream. Based on the results of a recent SMPS Boston member survey, we are predicting that A/E/C organizations, companies, and industry peers will continue to leverage technology to connect throughout 2021 – but they will also embrace hybrid and limited attendance in-person networking opportunities. As you prepare for another year of developing business, I wanted to share my favorite five tips for networking and building relationships, no matter if these opportunities are virtual, hybrid, or in-person.
- Education Yourself on Available Technology: Although we will return to some in-person events in the near future, we have seen the benefits of digital connection and these technologies are not going anywhere. If you are still unfamiliar with these platforms, now is the time to get smart. Spend the time to learn and understand these tools so you can properly mute yourself, change your background images, share your screen, use chat functions, and set up break-out rooms. Clients will expect you to run effective meetings and time should not be spent on technical difficulties. Also, become familiar with all of the platforms that exist. Zoom is a common platform, but clients may be using Microsoft Teams, Go To Meeting, Ring Central, or Remo, and understanding how to use the platform properly before jumping into a meeting is imperative.
- Turn Your Camera On: This might seem obvious for most business development professionals, but I cannot tell you how many networking opportunities I have joined to find only 10 out of the 45 attendees have their camera turned on. I feel like this is a huge missed opportunity. Even if you are joining a panel discussion, if you have the chance to show your face at the meeting, it offers you and your company more visibility—something that is hard to come across these days! Also, having your camera on during meetings allows other attendees to see your reactions to statements and have a more personal connection. And don’t forget to brush your hair and replace that sweatshirt with a button up! You can put the baseball cap back on after your call.
- Ask for Attendee Lists: Hybrid events are somewhat new to us. These events will involve a live-streamed event for remote attendees, combined with a safe, socially distant, in-person portion of the event. As mentioned above, if you are connecting virtually, be sure to turn your camera on! If you are attending in-person, you will be able to connect with other attendees who are in-person, but you might miss the opportunity to connect with an industry peer who is participating virtually. Be sure to ask for the attendee list before the event so you can be sure to not miss any opportunities to connect. This way you can follow up after the event and schedule a coffee meeting to discuss the event, market trends, and any business opportunities.
Returning to In-Person
- Ask Questions & Remember Names: It’s been a while since any of us have done in-person networking, so let’s go back to the basics. My number one go-to tip for in-person networking is to try to remember people’s names. This article outlines some helpful tips. The one that works best for me is repeating a person’s name back to them when meeting for the first time. Also, remember to not focus the conversation on yourself. Talking about yourself might make you comfortable, but instead, ask questions about your peer’s career and life interests. This will help you remember them better and give you topics to connect on, both in the moment and at future events. People will so appreciate when you see them for a second time and ask how their new painting hobby is turning out or how their son’s hockey game went.
- Make & Ask For Intros: After not seeing each other for over a year, we might end up spending a lot of our time catching up with old friends or feeling stuck in groundhog day conversations about pandemic-life. Remember to loop others into your conversation so they can bring a fresh perspective. Also, if you know one of your colleagues has a connection that might benefit you, don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction. We are all in this together!
If you are participating in hybrid or in-person events, remember to respect others wishes about personal space, and also review both the event’s and your organization’s COVID-19 safety protocols. This is a new world we are all emerging into and although we are all trying our absolute best, navigating these events might take a little extra prep time. Wishing you all the absolute best of luck with your 2021 business development and networking endeavors – no matter if they are virtual, hybrid, or in-person.