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The Secret to Post-COVID Networking? Being There

The days of happy hours, conferences and corporate mixers seem long ago, thanks to coronavirus. But there is an effective, surprisingly low-tech way to make business connections and build relationships.

It has been a very long time since I was first introduced to the “elevator speech.” This is the concept that influential people have a practiced, but convincing, few sentences that will trigger another’s interest in their enterprise, services or campaign, on an emotional level.

This icebreaker concept, of course, only really works outside the business setting, during personal social encounters when people are expecting only casual conversation: while riding an elevator, waiting in line for something or mingling at a gathering. It is much less effective during a Zoom conference.

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Networking is essential for anyone who wishes to stay relevant, regardless of their purpose. Whether you provide professional services, consult, manufacture something or clean offices, you are part of a social network that depends on personal contact for prospects, referrals, opportunities, best practices and innovation.

The Challenges of Networking Today

Simply put, networking is meeting new people and reinforcing a personal relationship with those you’re already acquainted with. Part of networking is simply being present in the community. Whether you attend a conference, a seminar, a training program, a fundraiser, an association meeting, a campaign event, a dinner party or just happy hour, your presence places you in the midst of people who may benefit from knowing you or who know someone who will. Of course, your absence from social networking will quickly go unnoticed as you sink into the depths of anonymity. But that was before COVID-19.

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What do we do now that nonessential gatherings are simply too risky for most people or are banned by local authorities? We must find new ways to be relevant. Whether the purpose of your networking is to sell services or products, to raise awareness and inform, or to influence and inspire, you are, no doubt, falling hard on those internet tools that you previously used only to create opportunities for personal engagement. Now, we hope that these tools will actually pass for personal engagement.

Don’t Waste Your Time Adding to the ‘Noise’

Sitting at home, or isolated in our offices, we are writing more blogs, more blast emails, more sponsored content. We are also ignoring the swamp of mostly redundant information deepening in our inbox, spam folder and social media streams. In many ways, we might as well just be writing to ourselves.

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Setting aside singer Demi Lovato’s poignant story, her song Anyone makes a relevant point: “Told secrets ’til my voice was sore, tired of empty conversation, ’cause no one hears me anymore.” This need for recognition coupled with a lack of personal insight spotlights a much larger issue: the ocean of information we swim in and add to with little return on our efforts and less benefit to our intended audience. Then we wonder why we didn’t get any “likes” or “thumbs ups” for our contribution to the tsunami.

Instead, for Networking Today Go Old School

Maybe, the secret to post-COVID networking is to simply pick up the phone? Yes, I know, your phone is always in your hand or on your wrist — but in this case, I mean the part of your phone that Alexander Bell invented. The actual phone part. Don’t forward an interesting link, post a comment or share a podcast with a note: “Thought you’d like this.” Call someone and ask them how they are. Once you get used to it, you can make it your new habit.

Make a list of the people you most need to speak with, personally and professionally. Then make a list of those you want to speak with at least monthly. Start dialing — you know, that part where you say, “Siri, call So and So.” You’ll leave many voice messages, but most will call you back, too.

In these days of isolation, a disembodied voice on the line is not the horror it once seemed. Your network is still there, and it is waiting for you. Being there is the sole requirement; simply being present.

About the Author

Timothy Barrett, Trust Counsel

Senior Vice President, Argent Trust Company

Timothy Barrett is a senior vice president and trust counsel with Argent Trust Company. Timothy is a graduate of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, 2016 Bingham Fellow, a board member of the Metro Louisville Estate Planning Council, and is a member of the Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana Bar Associations, and the University of Kentucky Estate Planning Institute Program Planning Committee.

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