NETWORKING. The Challenge and Its Comeback

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By Kim Barclay

Networking was challenging enough before the pandemic, and now networking in the traditional sense is almost non-existent.  We as business professionals have become more flexible and creative when it comes to sales, networking and just interacting with colleagues and people in general.  With more people becoming more comfortable, but yet still cautious when it comes to socializing and networking…. now what?  How do we conduct ourselves in an atmosphere where you aren’t sure, frankly, how to behave?  Do we shake hands anymore or just fist bump? If I wear a mask can we hug? Do I still need to stand six feet away?  Carry hand sanitizer in my pocket?  It’s all very stressful and can be overwhelming to the point of, why even try?

Currently, as an attendee at a meeting, conference or any networking event, it is your responsibility to know or find out what the host is doing to ensure everyone’s comfort level prior to the event.  Many events are utilizing some sort of “comfort identifier” and modifying it for their own.  As an example, one of Partners’ clients had “Comfort with Colors” where there were colored dots attendees placed on their name badges and it had a key to identify if you were vaccinated and the different level of interaction that individual was comfortable with.  It wasn’t mandatory, but was used by 95% of the attendees and lessened the stress and awkwardness of “how do I behave”.  If by chance an event or meeting you are attending does not implement any sort of identifier, you can make your own with name badge materials easily purchased at office supply stores if it will put you more at ease.

NETWORKING 101.  Traditional networking, meetings and conferences will make a comeback.  Many people are great at making the rounds and talking to everyone in the room but there are many basics that people either forget or never knew.  Here are my top 10 networking tips:

  1. Wear your badge on your right side or right lapel.  When you shake hands (or fist bump) with someone, you are looking toward their right shoulder.
  2. Don’t make food the priority. You are at a networking event to network.  How are you supposed to talk to people with a plate in each hand, a mouth full of food and broccoli in your teeth?  Eat before you go, or get a small plate when you first arrive.  Eat, go to the restroom and check your teeth and face, eat a breath mint and then begin your socializing. 
  3. Hold your drink in your left hand.  No one wants to shake a cold, wet hand.
  4. If available and appropriate, obtain a list of attendees prior to the event.  It’s helpful to know if anyone that you are targeting to meet will be in attendance.
  5. Don’t stress over having an “elevator speech”.  Unless you are attending a speed networking function, the point of these events is to be able to talk, mingle and get to know each other.  Having a quick explanation of what you do in the back of your mind is always good for “on the fly” but use when appropriate.  You shouldn’t go to every event saying the same thing.
  6. Take a colleague, divide and conquer.  Help each other work the room and find new people to introduce each other to.
  7. Take plenty of business cards and breath mints.
  8. If you are the “wall flower” type, don’t despair.  Many events have some sort of buddy system to assist those that are learning how to network, are shy, or for first time attendees.  Remember that everyone has to start somewhere. 
  9. Dress for the occasion.  If it is summer and the event is outside, no one wants to watch see you dripping in sweat in a suit.  Also, wear comfortable shoes as you will be standing and moving.  You can’t network if you are sitting because your feet hurt from your stilettos.
  10. When you are at a networking event, meeting or convention, the attendees EXPECT people to come out of the blue and introduce themselves.  This is the environment where it is safe to talk to strangers!

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