From creative problem-solving to nursing sustainable relations, networking has been pivotal in human development, commerce, and peace.
The meeting of minds, and cultivation of relationships, has brought cross-continental collaborations and fulfilling links to millions, along with establishing visibility, fostering communities, and evolving the tenets of globalisation.
However, when faced with the unprecedented constraints of a global pandemic, we ask: has networking been made redundant?
Connection – it is one of the necessities of society and, remains so relevant into 2020. The global pandemic may have shocked our established systems into a new state, but there is always a need and opportunity for creating connections.
I have heard and read about how so many people are tired of Zoom virtual meetings, teleconferences, and the heightened dependency on technology to forge ahead or risk losing paychecks and sanity.
However, I have also been privy to some people’s utter relief in ‘the new normal’, which has allowed them increased flexibility to work in a more personalised environment, with office hours planned around personal convenience, as well as adaptability for navigating around other human connections.
But in a world that was so deeply bound by a balance between the digital and the physical, has networking become obsolete, or is it more important than ever?
Did you know that networking transcends physical events where acquaintances are established, and deals are tentatively begun?
Networking is relationship-building. It includes job seekers engaging people and companies, and it is also defined by those who choose to ask for help. According to School16 tech education company co-directors Sergei and Vadim Revzin, it is important that business leaders and entrepreneurs “understand the importance of chance encounters at networking events for fostering relationships that turn into business opportunities and even future job prospects”.
In a time where nations have come to veritable standstills, and people are in a state of major transition professionally and personally, the pandemic is actually a time when networking should persist – with respect, insistence, and authenticity.
We live in strenuous times where people are often unaware of their anxieties, which weigh them down until their dwindling resources, mounting priorities and ‘to-do lists’ overwhelm them into a burn out. Caution should be allocated to appearing tone deaf, when fundamentally you are requesting that someone else gives a share of their time, energy, and social capital, towards your betterment.
In a recent article in Forbes.com, Forbes contributor Dawn Graham, says that “the effective part” of networking, “is essentially the relationship – the trust, shared experiences, or willingness to risk your reputation to assist someone. And the pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to do more long-term relationship-building)”.
So when it comes to networking, either in business or non- professional, here are five things to remember:
- Hard sells may not be as well received during the global Covid-19 pandemic
- Meeting new people will require a measure of your time, energy, and focus – connect with new people when you are willing to invest in the relationship tentatively forged
You need to begin thinking of quality, over quantity for networking. Casting a wide net, has its merits, but what your catch yields, is just as important. It is also advised that you become more proactive in arranging an introduction to someone.
You can no longer depend on chance, the right place, or time. If you want to make an acquaintance with someone, start by asking your ‘friend of a friend’ for an introduction. The connection is far more likely to be established when that person is willing to put their name on the line for you – consequently giving you their stamp of approval.
- Most connections are made over activities, beliefs, and tastes similarly shared.
Locate your contacts in a safe space where you like to go, and over social media, dealing with topics in which you have a vested interest in discussing. The Revzin’s School16 company, for example, hosts free weekly sessions with 50-70 attendees, “creating a highly targeted ecosystem of like minded individuals”, who are seeking help in securing non-technical jobs, within tech companies.
Your office is now in your lounge, and there are playgrounds and spirited discussions to enjoy, while resting on your bed. Explore more of what you do and love, engaging different people on a personal and professional front respectively.
- You need to ask better questions, says Dawn Graham.
She gives some of the most relevant pieces of networking advice, advising people to steer away from the predictable question of “What do you do?”, and rather ask “What excites you right now?” or even better “What’s the most important thing I should know about you?”
- Family can also provide another avenue of information and support, for your networking opportunities.
In her TEDxTalk Your Next Job is One Conversation Away, Graham points out that many of us rarely talk to our families about what we planning professionally. This means that they don’t know whether or not they are in a position to use their social capital, to help you in your prospects. Given the fact that “many opportunities come from second or third level contacts introduced by your primary contacts”, we should all do better in articulating our career goals, to our underestimated closest circles.
Networking does not come easy to many people, so don’t worry if you think you’re alone – you aren’t! Everyone needs a nudge in the right direction, on how to engage somebody else effectively, as well as maintain that connection, which is why I have these three tips to start you off in the right direction of establishing and sustaining a network:
- Your online accounts are part of your personal brand – keep them updated, authentic, and interesting. When you network, and someone is intrigued by you, they will seek out information about you online. Ensure you are presenting a version of you that you yourself can identify, embody, and maintain. Be the reality you project virtually.
- Your LinkedIn account is a golden opportunity to show people you are ready to connect, as I explain in one of my recent The Media Online articles. Block out some time in your daily schedule, to respond to comments, read articles and write-up reshares which others have posted, and tune up your LinkedIn profile. Your network can start with a comment, that becomes a conversation.
- Did you know that there are virtual ‘morning coffee’ and ‘happy hour’ events online? There are free events available globally, for you to log into, and enjoy face time and conversation, with someone next door or across the continent. You need only Google search, check out the events page of companies you are interested in, or even start a virtual event yourself on Facebook.
Remember, before we are a means to an end, we are firstly human beings – treat each connection with that reminder at the forefront.
Liezel van der Westhuizen is an accomplished presenter, adaptable virtual emcee and personal branding specialist. She (Masters graduate in Business Communication) is also owner of The Giraffe Brand Academy, which is dedicated to a mission of personal brand-building, assisting clients to stick their necks out and cultivate their power to stand tall and be unique. She is also towering above her competitors in the digital space as a renowned Virtual Emcee, who has been intrinsically tied to the success of events around the world, through her aptitude in captivating any audience, and across industries.
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