The New Networking

Most of us enjoy meeting new people, sharing our stories for the first time, listening to other experiences, and still, the word networking, which consists of exactly those things, has a bad connotation for most people.

Why networking?
While choosing between 13 topics for my pathway project, networking was the one topic I really wanted to avoid. Yet, one of the habits I adopted joining Toastmasters, is to choose the option that throws me the farthest away from my comfort zone, so I did choose networking eventually.

The project was to attend a networking event with the promise that it will have a positive influence on my confidence. This was not my experience in the past. Typically, at the end of networking events, I would feel disappointed, mostly at myself, discouraged, and less confident. Furthermore, the project’s recommendations were relevant to an in-person networking event while in our current situation, networking looks very different.

The new networking
I recently attended an online networking event which I refer to as the new networking. At the end of the meeting, I felt better than any previous networking event. I felt content, energized, motivated, and even supported.
I believe this kind of new networking should not be neglected when in-person meetings come back to our lives. Here I will try to explain why and provide a couple of suggestions on how to make the most of this new form.

Location
I attended a virtual happy hour hosted by an organization called AWWEE (Association of Women in Water, Energy & Environment). I have been following this organization for a long time. They had many networking events in the past which were at least a 1.5-hour drive from me, which made it impossible to squeeze into my schedule. For this reason, I missed many opportunities to network in this organization and others that interest me.
I was happy to find that they host an online meeting that I could finally attend.
The new networking makes the location of the organization irrelevant. Now, more than ever, we can network and get acquainted with people from organizations all over the world, and it takes about 5 minutes to get there (open a computer, find the link and click on it).

Energy level
In the past, when I planned on attending a networking event, I usually had a long stressful drive ahead of me, usually with traffic. I had to figure out ahead of time where to park and how to find a place that I have never been to, sometimes in the dark, sometimes feeling not so comfortable in my formal clothes.
When I finally would get to the events, I have already used up about 50% of my energy. Nevertheless, I would put a smile on my face, stand tall, and enter a room full of strangers.
All this is avoided in the new networking. Joining the online meeting, everyone including myself was dressed casually and seemed comfortable in their own clothes, and since it took no time to get to the meeting, everyone’s energy levels were high and all seemed at ease, and yet excited and ready to connect and communicate.

New connections
Entering a room full of strangers can be intimidating. Naturally, if we spot someone we recognize in the crowd, we would probably approach that person first. Research shows that people spend most of their time in networking events, talking to people they already know, while what they really need are new connections.

Approaching a stranger, introducing myself, giving my short pitch, listening attentively, and hopefully engaging in a meaningful conversation takes time and energy. In one event, I can probably do all this about four times, which means that at the end of the meeting, I would have 4 new potential connections. Not bad!

On the other hand, the virtual happy hour I attended was a pilot meeting, so a whole hour was spent on introductions. I couldn’t choose who to talk to. I heard experiences and gathered information from 20 other professionals, and when it was my turn to introduce myself, all attendees heard what was important for me to say. The result was that all participants got acquainted with each other.

At the end of the meeting, we all used the chat to share our contact information and LinkedIn profiles, and other tips and suggestions. I got 20 new potential connections, which was five times better than an in-person event.

Looking forward to the next meeting
The best of all the mentioned advantages is that I actually enjoyed the meeting and I was looking forward to the next one.
Here is what I intend to do at the next meeting that will help me make the most of the new networking:
Before the meeting: work even harder on perfecting my pitch, and practice saying it to the camera. I might only get one chance to say it and maybe in front of many people. I will make sure it includes my goals, so participants will be able to help me achieve them.
After the meeting:
Building and maintaining relationships with new connections is challenging to begin with. The challenge is even greater when my new connection is someone that I never met in person and didn’t even have a one on one conversation with.
My solution is yet to be implemented so it is solely a suggestion and not based on experience. My new connections will be added to the LinkedIn pool of connections. To make those connections work for me, I need to be active on LinkedIn. I need to make sure my profile includes my interests, my goals and I need to share and post about what I care about and what I want more in my life. The more active I am, the more my new connections will be reminded repeatedly of what I like, what interests me, what I do, and what I want to do. They, on their own, can make connections that will benefit me.

Yes to both in-person and online meetings
We are social creatures and we thrive on in-person meetings and should have as many as possible.
Still, work and project-related online meetings are such a great addition to our lives and I believe they open so many more opportunities for us, and make networking easier and even enjoyable!

Don’t miss the next opportunity!
I encourage you to look-up organizations that are of interest to you. Many now offer webinars, networking events, meetings that are open to the public that you can participate in, from the comfort of your home.
You never know what opportunity might land in your lap(top).




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