To say that 2020 took a real bite out of professional networking would be an understatement, but connecting with other people in your industry still remains a very powerful part of any career or business development strategy. This makes networking too valuable to ignore even in challenging times.
We’ve thrown together a few networking tips to help you stay on top of whatever kind of networking events pop up for you this year.
MEETING UP ONLINE?
First Impression Adjustments
Most likely, a good percentage of our meeting and networking events are going to take place in the virtual world. This means the nature of our first impressions are going to change a little bit.
In addition to traditional networking preliminaries like dressing in appropriate attire and having our supplemental materials at the ready, we should be prepared and well versed with the right technology. Since we’re going to be viewed on a screen, we need to make sure the viewer receives the best possible image. This means that we’re going to have to pay close attention to our devices, our setting, our lighting, and our connectivity.
Your laptop’s built-in camera and microphone are likely insufficient unless you have one of the latest machines. Instead, consider adding a new external webcam and mic to your laptop or using your smartphone as it probably has a more powerful camera and mic setup.
For reference, Zoom recommends using a camera with 720p (1280×720) resolution that delivers at least 20 frames per second. They also recommend a microphone you can keep close to yourself, or clip on, that operates at 600 ohms (Ω) or below. Bluetooth microphones are recommended if you’re using a smartphone.
Setting the Scene
As for your lighting and setting conditions, this is somewhat of a rare instance where you get to tailor your first impression more closely than you could in a public setting. Choose a charming area of your home or other suitable location that delivers a positive image to your viewer and minimizes potential disruptions. Test your setup before your meeting and adjust as necessary. Make sure your devices work well and you have a strong internet connection.
You don’t have to be an expert film director or cinematographer here, but you should feel confident in your ability to control the image that viewers are seeing. You get to be viewed in the way you’d prefer to be viewed, and that can be an empowering feeling as you work to build new professional relationships.
HANGING OUT IN PERSON?
Last year bought about some of the most drastic changes to traditional business networking events that most professionals have ever experienced. Effectively, they were kind of eliminated for a time. But people have adapted over the last few months and new in-person opportunities are starting to arise. General trends are indicating that companies are holding smaller, more exclusive in-person events. Many are also going with a combined use of virtual and in-person gatherings.
People will not be attending any in-person events until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available. This is both an advantage and a challenge for people looking to build up their networks. Some of your target audience may not be in attendance, but you’ll have a better chance to get noticed by the people who do attend. The real impact will come from making the most of this chance.
Maximizing Your “Wow” Factor
Smaller crowd sizes could give you a better chance to shine if you form a polished approach. Now is a great time to update your business cards, practice your pitch, and order up your customized leave-behinds, whether they be printed materials or any other kind of specialty items. Pricing on these kinds of things are very favorable right now, which helps you maximize your impression.
Be creative when making your selections. Quality, useful materials tend to generate the best results. For example, a notepad or handy tool bearing your contact information is likely to be more memorable than a single-use item like a flyer. Something unique and handy will help your recipient remember you, which extends your presence and strengthens your relationship.
Expect an Emphasis on Safety
Don’t worry about practicing your firm business handshake, because you probably won’t be using it for a while. You can expect to see a much greater emphasis on infection safety protocols at future in-person business events. There is going to be a lot less touching and a lot more physical distance, and health screening areas are likely to become commonplace.
On a related note, trends are indicating there will be a much greater use of breakout sessions as a means to keep crowds disbursed at business events. Again, this presents a good possibility to get some one-on-one time with people that you’re trying to reach. Utilize these smaller settings to your advantage by planning an appropriate and personalized introduction to yourself or your services.
Get Ready to Connect
Although they have changed a lot, professional networking opportunities remain one of the best ways to accelerate your business or career. A little bit of advanced preparation and knowledge about what to expect will help you stay on your toes for your next networking event. Even in the confines of our current national situation, there are still great reasons to continue meeting people. Don’t let the challenges of 2021 hold you back. There is still got a lot to gain.