Nervous about Networking After COVID-19?
Are you nervous about networking again? If you listened to my podcast episode, Getting Back to Normal – My Observations from 26 Coffee Meetings, you will understand why I am asking this question.
So many of the people I met were being very careful about returning to any form of in-person interaction much less networking with new people.
At the same time, I noticed that my own interpersonal skills had deteriorated. It took a while for me to get back into the mode of active listening. In fact, in the first few meetings, I did very little listening at all.
When I realized this I scheduled a call with my friend, Thom Singer, who is a networking expert and he told me he had similar problems at his first networking event. If Thom had problems then a lot of us will!
Here are some tips I got from Thom and a few of my own if you are nervous about networking again.
Tip #1 – Start One-On-One with People You Know
If you are nervous about networking then start reconnecting with former colleagues, friends, classmates, and others with who you have had relationships.
Start out meeting one-on-one over a coffee or other libation. Be prepared to focus on them. How have they been dealing with the pandemic? How has their family coped? What about their extended family?
In my conversations with the 26 people I met, some were finally attending weddings and other family gatherings. One former client attended his daughter’s wedding which had been delayed multiple times. He and his wife even got on a plane!!
Others came up with inventive ways to help their children cope. I had another former client who took his family to a different state park every weekend to go hiking and biking.
This is a good exercise in active listening. Some features of active listening to practice include:
- Neutral and nonjudgmental
- Patient (periods of silence are not “filled”)
- Verbal and nonverbal feedback to show signs of listening (e.g., smiling, eye contact, leaning in, mirroring)
- Asking questions
- Reflecting back on what is said
- Asking for clarification
Once you are comfortable with meeting one on one let’s move to small groups.
Tip #2 – Organize a Small Group Gathering
Invite people that you will be comfortable with and feel safe being around. It is perfectly alright to require people to have been vaccinated in order to attend. Of the 26 people I met with, 25 had been fully vaccinated and they told me so right upfront. I did not even have to ask. The one person who was not vaccinated I needed to take action with but that was a learning experience in itself.
It may be easiest and least stressful to organize a meetup in a park or in someone’s backyard. So many of us have not been in an enclosed space with other than our family in a year. Do not expect others or yourself to enter a room inside somewhere and expect everyone to be stress-free.
Make sure to circulate among the group and help others do the same. If you are conscious of the need to circulate you will get lots of practice in active listening.
Hopefully, by now you are less nervous about networking.
Tip #3 – Attend a Small Professional Event
You have now gotten used to being around people you know, now it is time to meet new people. YIKES!
What I have been noticing are most events I am seeing popup are relatively small. Pick something that you feel you can manage both in size of the group and location. If you are still not comfortable going inside, pick an event that is outside.
Just remember that this will be awkward for just about anyone. If someone tells you it is not awkward, then they are probably lying. We have all been in some form of isolation for a year, it takes a toll on everyone.
Find a good stream of questions to ask. You might want to lead with “how have you been coping over the last year?” or “do you go grocery shopping or order your groceries online for pickup or delivery?”.
Practice your active listening with people you do not know.
Tip #4 – Be Kind to Yourself If You are Still Nervous about Networking
The last year has been tough. Some of you have had a horrendously difficult year. Getting back to normal, and I will let you define what “normal” means, will not be easy.
Notice what I am suggesting may take a while to accomplish. I found meeting with 26 people in 28 days really got me to see the skills I needed to work on. Some people were much easier to build rapport with than others. I found myself learning to focus on reading body language, facial expressions, and other forms of non-verbal communication. It is really hard to read body language over a zoom call.
Develop a Plan to Get Over being Nervous about Networking
Hopefully, I have given you some ideas about how to ease back into networking. For some of you, this will be easy while for others it is going to be really difficult.
Develop a plan that allows you to integrate back into work life at a pace you feel comfortable with.
Many companies are planning to bring everyone back into the office in the fall. Now is the time to get comfortable with being around people, and practice your interpersonal skills.
If you had told me a year ago, I would be writing a post like this, I would have told you that you must be smoking something and yes, you were inhaling. Not anymore.
Good luck with your networking endeavors.