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Creating Successful Leaders

It wasn’t long ago that networking meant going to a physical location—an event center, a restaurant/bar, a clubhouse—and hobnobbing with strangers. You made small talk, you asked about others’ expertise, you asked for and handed out business cards.

For some, this experience was energizing and exciting—a chance to meet and mingle with potential clients or collaborators. For others, it was uncomfortable or downright terrifying. Regardless of which camp you fell into, the reality is, networking is changing (and has been for years).

Today, more than ever, our communication happens in a virtual space. We log into meetings on Zoom, Hangouts, or Skype. We send information through email. We chat with co-workers through platforms such as Slack or Discord. As this has become the new normal, so too has networking shifted into a virtual space.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to this virtual shift.

One huge advantage is that virtual networking is more accessible for more people. In the past, it was difficult for many groups of people to attend an in-person networking session—parents with small children, people who are unable to drive, those with a demanding work schedule, those who live far from typical networking locations. So, even though we may be sacrificing the “in-person feel,” we open the door for a whole new set of people.

Today, networking may lean more towards online presentations or programs than a “let’s mingle and get to know each other” session. So…how do you get to know others and make valuable connections?

Hopefully, the program monitor will facilitate some icebreaker activities or small group break-out sessions. If that’s the case, be sure to be personable and make yourself memorable. Tell others a quirky fact about yourself or slip in a relevant achievement. You could even wear colorful clothing or accessories to make yourself stand out a bit more.

Another thing you can do during online sessions is to ask thoughtful questions. I am a huge proponent of asking questions, whether they are clarifying questions, questions that expound/expand upon the topic, or questions that invite a dialogue. Being engaged, in general, is always a good idea.

Toward the end of the session, if the monitor hasn’t mentioned anything about exchanging contact information, be sure to (politely) ask about it. You might even ask others for their contact info if you’re in a small break-out session. Don’t force it, but if you’ve established a good connection with others and it seems natural to ask for contact info, go ahead! It doesn’t hurt to ask.

As with any other kind of networking, it’s a good idea to follow up with potential connections afterwards. Add them on LinkedIn and send out an email to anyone who might be a valuable connection. You might even discuss meeting up in the “real world,” or you might plan to attend a similar virtual program together in the future.

The future of networking is virtual, so we might as well learn to adapt and embrace it!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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