Traditional pants are back, sweats have been relieved of daytime duty, and we couldn’t be happier about networking in-person again. But even as things open up again, meeting in-person might not be exactly as we remembered. Mask and social distancing guidelines are still in place in many states. This can make it challenging to introduce yourself in-person. Not only that, many people have had a not-so-fun year, often Zooming until dark, and are probably looking for something a little more genuine than the usual networking small talk. (Who can blame them?) To help you make real connections meeting in-person, these are our top networking trends and predictions for 2021.
“Networking” is out – “Friendship” is in.
In the new book You’re Invited – The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence, Jon Levy proposes that we stop networking altogether and focus on making friendships. Levy realized, “Everybody says if you want to succeed you have to network. But we hate networking. It’s miserable. It makes us feel dirty, it makes us anxious.” Instead, we should, “find experiences that promote friendship and those that require a joint effort.” Levy developed this theory after hosting events where influencers would simply make dinner together. They wouldn’t talk about what they do for work, they would just work together. Levy noted that the people at these events formed better friendships, better business relationships, and were happier in general than when networking.
Attendees and organizers can apply this theory to upcoming events. Consider organizing a nature walk, or a picnic, or even a softball game. The experience should be accessible, with just enough novelty to make it intriguing, but still fun. Because fun is how we make friends.
Get your profiles up to date.
Social media may not be all it’s cracked up to be for making real connections, but it’s still important to have a presence. Take a minute to update pictures, add recent experience and projects, or even clear out that Linkedin inbox. Eek! You never know who you might connect with. You don’t have to take a ton of time on this, but try to add a line or two that says something unique about yourself. It could be a hobby you picked up in the last year or a new project you are working on. Also, if everyone is still wearing masks when you meet in-person, your social media may be the only way to show off that smile in-person 🙂
Start virtually, and start now.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that employers want to get people out of the habit of cold-applying for jobs online. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work a lot of time). Instead, if you’re in the market for a new job, the Journal recommends simply picking up the phone and making some calls. “You get a lot of jobs not through the front door, but a side door,” says Gorick Ng, an undergraduate career adviser at Harvard. “That’s especially true for entry-level positions.” This is something most people do learn on their own eventually, but for recent graduates, attending events for the first time, this advice is pure gold. Even if the event is a few weeks or months away, set up a few quick zooms with fellow attendees now. Start building connections beforehand, so when you get the event you can hit the ground running on your job search.
Stick with people you like talking to.
Rolling Stone recently reached out to about a dozen successful people about what they look for when networking. There were a lot of good answers, but the one that stuck out the most was from Doctor Mike, who says, “Forget mega success and instead look for good people in diverse industries. There’s too much thought placed on what others can offer you. Instead, focus on building a supportive network of individuals who continually inspire you and bring fresh thoughts to your conversations.” When it comes down to it, we work best when we are surrounded by people that we like talking to, no matter what their profession is. With the numerous ways that people can work remotely now, this is the time to collaborate with any industries that we feel connected to, even if they are totally different from our own. Just focus on making connections with the people you like talking to while networking in-person.
Plan for masks, smaller groups, outdoors, and social distancing.
Although the CDC has lifted restrictions for vaccinated individuals, upcoming events will likely have some kind of safety guidelines in place; such as masks, social distancing, or capacity restrictions. To make the most of this, we recommend bringing a mask you like and feel comfortable wearing (well as comfortable as a mask can be). Also, it’s important to follow social distancing guidelines at all times — even if you see your friend that you haven’t seen in a year, still hold off on random hugs unless allowed by event organizers. If you’re worried about not being recognized, let people know where you will be and what your mask will look like. Also, if you meet outside, you can possibly go maskless (if it’s OK with the event staff of course).
Start with friends.
Sometimes we forget that we already have a large “network.” In addition to making new connections, don’t forget to reach out to old friends at the event and keep building those relationships. When we already know someone, we can cut through all the intros, get straight to what’s going on, what we’re working on, what new ideas we have, or even just have a relaxing chat. A lot has happened in the last year. Everyone we know has had a unique experience getting back to this moment. Now is the time to share and keep building those friendships.
Enjoy the process.
While networking has been a drag in the past, there are now proven methods to make it more fun when we meet in-person again. Plan activities that promote friendship over getting straight to business. Start virtually and get the ball rolling well before the event. In reality, networking doesn’t have to feel like networking at all, it can just be talking to people we like talking to. Which makes 2021 sound better already.