Alisa Cohn & Dorie Clark - Harvard Business ReviewWe all know the typical ways to network: by attending industry mixers, business dinners, and conferences. But of course none of those have been possible over the past few months, with so much of the world in quarantine. And even as various regions start to open up, large gatherings will be slow to come back, and long-distance travel will be limited. How should you be making new professional connections during this time? And how can you strengthen relationships inside your company when many people are still working remotely? As executive coaches who work with leaders across the globe, we’ve spent years helping clients learn to build relationships virtually. As in the past, it’s still useful to deepen existing relationships and cultivate new ones by engaging on LinkedIn or other social media platforms. But in this unique time, we’ve identified several other strategies you can use to create connections. Here are three to consider.
Turn canceled conferences into private networking opportunities.Since the pandemic began, many conferences and other large gatherings have been canceled, but even in their absence, you can use them as a way to meet people. Take a look at the conferences scheduled for earlier in the year along with those that would have been coming up. Identify participants who were supposed to attend or speak or who came in prior years. (If you don’t have the list, you can often email conference organizers and ask for it.) Choose five to 10 people you’d like to connect with, and find something you have in common that might make them interested in meeting you (for instance, you’re both involved in robotics research, or you’re alumni of the same university). You can email them or send a message on LinkedIn saying something like, “We were both planning to attend [conference] this year. I had been hoping to meet you there, because I saw that we’re both involved in robotics research and I thought it might be interesting to chat. Since the event was canceled and we’re all grounded for the moment, I thought I’d reach out virtually instead. Let me know if you’d like to meet for a coffee over Zoom.” One of Alisa’s clients, the CEO of a media company, employed this strategy. After a major conference he was planning to attend got canceled, he reached out to some of the people he had wanted to meet there and convened a virtual cocktail party. He developed relationships with interesting new contacts and was invited to speak at a future event.
Rethink geographic boundaries.Before the world went remote, most professionals’ standard networking impulse was to focus on the people around them. We experienced this ourselves as hosts of regular dinner gatherings in New York City. When creating guest lists, we’d think about local colleagues and would tell out-of-town contacts to “let us know when you’re going to be in New York.” Now those boundaries have receded, and as we’ve shifted to virtual cocktail gatherings, we’ve realized that we’re free to invite people from around the world with whom we wouldn’t have previously been able to connect. During one recent Zoom networking event we brought together colleagues from Boston, New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Austin. We’ve noticed that our corporate coaching clients are applying the same principles and similarly taking a more expansive view. In the past, they might not have invited colleagues from different geographic regions to participate in a meeting if everyone else attending was in the same office. Now that so many of us are remote, they’re more comfortable inviting colleagues regardless of where they’re located.
Invite senior leaders to your online working group meetings.The current crisis has raised a host of new issues for business leaders to consider, whether it’s the future of your industry, how your company is responding to particular challenges (from supply chain to marketing to employee engagement), or the future of global work. This presents a unique opportunity for you to proactively convene an informal working group to discuss these issues. In some corporate cultures, you can simply invite a few people and have it grow from there. In others, it may be important to check in with your manager first. After gathering a group of peers a few times and establishing that the conversations are valuable, you can, where appropriate in your corporate culture, reach out to senior leaders and invite them to join a session, as either a participant or a guest speaker. A drop-by from a high-level leader may have been difficult, if not impossible, under normal circumstances — but with everyone working virtually (and the leader not traveling), a 15-minute appearance is often surprisingly easy to facilitate. One of Alisa’s clients is the CHRO of the U.S. division of a Fortune 500 company. In the early days of the pandemic, she took the initiative to convene a regular call with her peers in other geographies. As the crisis has played out, she has invited multiple company leaders, including the global CEO, to take part. That got her onto his radar, and he now calls her personally to discuss how the various regions are doing. Even though networking events have been canceled, there are many ways for you to build professional relationships. By employing these three strategies, you’ll emerge even stronger once in-person events start up again.
There are three things that set any business person apart from the rest of the pack.David Meltzer, Entrepreneur, CEO and Founder, Sports 1 Marketing
- The energy she carries.
- The situational knowledge she has.
- How she leverages relationship capital, not only of herself but of others.
Energetic first stepsThe first step when you have identified an event, a place or a situation where you can network is simply to put yourself into the right frame of mind. First, think of yourself as an equal. You mustn't think of yourself as separate, inferior or even superior. Don't fall victim to your ego! Envision yourself on a level playing field. If you don't have the right energy before you step into a networking or connection situation, then you must shift your energy. I can't tell you how many times that I've entered a room of my own family where I've felt separate, inferior or superior. And it always tends to make situations worse. This is why we must first have our energy aligned and be connected as one. You must feel like you belong, especially if you're younger and you don't have many relationships that you can leverage. If you don't carry the right energy when networking, you will not be very successful.
Bring your valueWhen you walk into a room, you want people to feel and know that you provide value, and can be of service. Also that you're radically humble and can ask for help. I want the energy that I carry to utilize the 100/20 Rule: Everyone who speaks with me or meets me knows that I'm giving much more value than I'm asking for. Networking will be easier if you have a simplified approach to your interactions or connections. Once you have the right energy, make sure you maintain eye contact, smile and always have at least one question to ask.
Second, that emotionWhen formulating your question, remember that people "buy" on emotion for logical reasons. Therefore, it's a good idea to connect emotionally. Emotion is energy in motion. There are numerous ways to establish an emotional connection from the outset. You can share a passion for a sports team, for the place where you grew up or the community you serve. If you both have children, you can talk about their school activities. Or anything that's important to you, and in common with the other person. Finally, when networking, be "more interested than interesting." Simply put: Find out what they know, rather than showing off what you know. A key part of networking is making sure you have a simple system in place to keep track of the people you meet. That way you can easily keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Exchange contact numbers on the spot by having them call your mobile phone with theirs. In the same day you meet them, send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. At home, or in your office, do not file business cards alphabetically. Rather, put them in order of importance -- or strongest influence -- or in the order of generating most to least ROI. And keep them in plain sight on your desk as a reminder to follow up. Remember when putting together your system: The universe loves simple.
Making new relationships ... indirectlyOne of the best ways to build new relationships is a bit counterintuitive in that you do not interact directly. I learned this from my mentor, Leigh Steinberg, when we were recruiting athletes at his sports agency. We utilized spheres of influence. In other words, we leveraged the connection someone else had to the people we wanted to meet. It's an organic and authentic way to meet an important person you can't just pick up the phone and call. What many people fail to realize is that having an individual who's more than one degree of separation from your target prospect can be more effective than you actually pitching your target. This is because now you have an unbiased, credible referral source who is aligned with your vision.
Network and thriveWhen you can effectively connect without the ego's need of being separate, inferior or superior, you leverage more than just your situational knowledge, you include others' as well. Not only can your relationship capital, and that of your mentors, help to accelerate your networking (and career) but utilizing the spheres of influence can, too. Most importantly, make a point to connect emotionally, then develop a process or system to continue to connect to those people emotionally. For example, if you connected on both of your kids' school activities, you can check in once in a while to inquire about their progress. When you effectively connect to others and provide value, you can easily connect to what inspires both of you. If you bring the right energy to your networking and connect to goodness, you'll exponentially experience more success and happiness.