This piece was originally written as the script for an audio piece I recorded for the Bookboon audio library.
2020 was a very disruptive year, and 2021 is just following that trend, but disruption is not always bad. It has closed some avenues and opened others. In the next few minutes, I’ll share with you some universal tips and strategies for networking then I’ll share with you some of the incredible new opportunities that this new virtual space has created.
I wanted to record this because too many people are seeing the disruptions of the past year as universally negative, but they are not negative. They are different. Of course, if you were on top of the world in January of 2020, any change would be bad, but if you were struggling coming into 2020, then change might be welcome.
The opportunity presented the quarantine and subsequent virtualization of business has been very good for many people. I have the opportunity to speak to you because of these changes. I launched my very exciting series of virtual events called Conference21 which would only be possible in the current situation. Most importantly, I have expanded my network from the local area of eastern Connecticut to the entire world. I now have connections on all corners of the globe, and it’s only possible because everything went online.
Let’s start with three principles that I learned in in person networking which apply to all networking:
Follow Up and One to Ones
#1 Givers Gain
Ivan Misner teaches that when we network, we should carry a ladle, not a spoon. A spoon you use to serve yourself. A ladle is used to serve others.
Givers Gain is a principle popularized by Business Network International, but it is universal to all networking in all settings.
If everyone goes into the networking environment looking to take then everyone will lose. No one goes to a networking event to buy.
However, if we all go in looking to give, then everyone wins, sometimes in big ways.
Some networking teachers talk about having a good elevator pitch, which is important I guess, but not the first thing to worry about. You certainly should know what you are looking for, but that is so you can make it easier for people to help you. It’s a guide to people who want to connect you to their network, not a shopping list.
So, how do you live out the principle of Givers Gain?
Instead of focusing on what you are trying to get, spend time thinking about what you have to offer. What are the strengths in your network that you can use to help others. Then, when in networking conversations, ask the other person:
“What are you looking for?”
“Who is your ideal referral?”
“How can I help you?”
When they tell you what they are looking for, search your mental files to figure out what introductions can be of greatest value to them and offer those introductions.
With in person networking, these connections might occur right in the room, as I will discuss in a moment, or they might be through an email, a phone call, or even a Facebook or LinkedIn message.
Online, it’s even easier. I probably give twice as many introductions in virtual networking than in person because it’s so easy to just switch screens to my email of Facebook Messenger and shoot off a quick introduction.
The benefit of this is not just some spiritual sense of putting good out into the universe. It’s good strategy.
Consider these two scenarios. In the first scenario, you meet someone at a networking event. This person proceeds to tell you what they do with a well practiced elevator pitch then asks you for referrals.
In the second scenario, the person opens up by asking what you do, who your ideal referral is, and how they can help you.
Whom are you more likely to share referrals with? Probably the second guy, right? Because in the course of helping, rapport is built. Trust is built.
A handful of questions and a lot of listening is far more powerful than hours of talking.
#2 Networking Attitude
You might be thinking: Michael, that whole givers gain thing sounds great, but I don’t know anyone. How can I go up to someone and offer them introductions when I don’t know anyone to introduce?
My book is called The Guy Who Knows A Guy because I am one of those people whom you can ask for a connection and there’s a fair chance I know someone to introduce you to.
In 2014, I moved to the area where I currently live knowing absolutely no one, but that didn’t stop me from offering introductions from almost minute one.
In the first couple months of living in southeast Connecticut, I was at a networking event. The first person I met was a Realtor. The second was another local businessperson. The third, when I asked whom he was trying to meet, told me that he was looking to build relationships with Realtors.
“Do you know that one?” I asked, indicating the Realtor I had just met.
“No, I don’t,” he replied.
“Would you like to?”
I knew three people in the room and I introduced two of them to each other.
What are the chances of that? Higher than you might think. At Conference21, the virtual conference I run, I gave a talk on networking. There were half a dozen people at my talk, and I did an exercise I often do. I asked for a volunteer from the audience to share whom they were trying to meet. It turned out that one of the other five people in the room was a match for the connection they were trying to make.
Early in my coaching business, I was working with 8 clients. I was able to connect three pairs within that group of 8 diverse clients.
I became the guy who knows a guy because I decided to. I adopted a networker attitude. I decided that I would make connections.
The best thing is that your network is like a muscle. The more you do, the stronger it gets. And the virtual space makes it easier because geography is less of a factor than it used to be.
A few months ago, someone reached out to me for a connection to a particular kind of property inspector in Indianapolis. I have never been to Indianapolis, nor did I know many people there, so I said “sure, let me see what I can do.” I reached out to the contacts I thought most likely to know the right person, and they did and the connection was made.
It’s not about luck. It’s simply about deciding you will make connections, and the network builds through the effort.
#3 Follow Up and One to One
Many people have had trouble with the transition from in person to virtual networking because they were doing it wrong in person.
You cannot build a relationship at a networking event. Most of them are about 90 minutes long. That means if you spend the whole time talking to one person, you might develop a relationship, maybe, but more likely you’ll just monopolize someone’s time and waste your own.
So, what should you be doing?
The purpose of the event is to meet people and assess which connections are worth cultivating into a relationship. A successful networking event contact results in an appointment for a follow up meeting or call. It is on that follow up where you can start developing the relationship.
This concept applies equally in live and virtual networking, but it is more important in virtual. At a live event, you might hit it off with someone and chat for an hour after the event in the parking lot. Not so much online.
So if your networking depends on those parking lot conversations, you may find yourself feeling that virtual networking does not work as well.
The adaptation for virtual networking comes of the fact that there is less serendipity online. You can’t just run into someone. Each conversation must be intentionally scheduled.
One thing I strongly recommend is that you employ scheduling software such as Calendly. That’s the one I use, but there’s others including Hubspot among others. Calendly is a vital part of my networking toolkit because it eliminates extra effort and stress.
Many networking events are on Zoom, and often you don’t get much time to really talk to someone, and that contact may end suddenly and unexpectedly. So, if you have to pull your calendar out and do the whole “how about Tuesday?” “No good, what about Wednesday morning?” “No, dentist appointment. Saturday?” thing then you might find your conversation cut off. Even if it is successful, there is a much higher level of stress and pressure.
Instead, with Calendly, I schedule the follow up like this.
“I put my Calendar link in the chat. Grab a time and let’s talk”
Want to try it out? Visit www.guywhoknowsaguy.com and click the calendar icon on the right side to schedule a call with me.
It is simpler. It is easier. It is less stressful. It is lower bandwidth.
At some events, I’ll drop my link in the chat in the main room and end up connecting with a couple people who I didn’t even talk to at the event.
Because it is easy, it is effective, so I recommend you schedule half hour blocks. You can always schedule more time, but if you schedule one hour one to ones you may find your calendar quickly full, and not every chat is deserving of a full hour.
This is the whole ballgame. Whatever kind of networking you are doing ultimately drives to these one on one conversations. Whether you find people in live networking events, online, or in the supermarket, it all comes down to getting into the conversations and building the relationship.
If you only learn one thing from this talk, this is the most important. The magic happens in the one to ones. All the rest is just details of how to get into them.
Know what referrals you are looking for. This may seem to contradict what I said before about focusing on giving, but it’s not really. Good networkers want to help you, but it can be difficult with some people. If you don’t know what you want, how could I possibly know what you want?
Do a favor to those connectors who want to connect you. Know what connections you are looking for.
When we come up with the answer of “who is your ideal referral?” try to think of sources of customers more than customers.
If you are a Realtor and you tell me that you’d like introductions to people looking to buy and sell homes, that is a tough ask. First, I have to know someone with a particular need. Second, I would have to introduce them to you over the twenty other Realtors I know.
The problem with asking for referrals to customers is that fundamentally that introduction will have to be “hey, this person sells something and you might want to buy it.”
However, if you say you’re looking for introductions to mortgage brokers, hiring managers, and ministers because they tend to know people who are looking to move, now we’re talking about introductions to build your network, not introductions to customers. I’m much more comfortable making that introduction.
The more unique your offering is, the more acceptable it is to ask for customers. If you’re a Realtor, insurance agent, or something else that’s super competitive, don’t do it. If you’re a coach who helps single moms starting businesses in tech deal with imposter syndrome, then it’s likely that you solve a problem no one else does. Now, I’m not pitching a sales pitch. I’m introducing a solution to a problem.
Welcome to networking in the 21st century.
This 21st century networking was brought about by the pandemic, but this virtual networking space is right there with flying cars and robot maids with stuff we should be excited about living in the future.
Unfortunately, like most technological shifts, the people who were leading the way with the previous technology are too often left standing in the mud with the new technology waiting for history to swing back their way.
In person networking will one day resume, but virtual networking is here to stay and is a tremendously powerful tool.
The first thing that we get in this virtual world is video chats. Video chat technology has been around for years, but we only achieved mass adoption when we were forced to. Sure, it’s great to meet with someone face to face, but it’s so much more time intensive. In a two hour period I could do four video calls or one in person meeting.
Even if you meet at the coffee shop right outside your office, you still probably set aside 15 minutes to get there and 15 minutes back. And 30 minute meetings easily bleed into an hour, especially if you have to order coffee or get food or do any of those real world things.
I believe when we get back out in person, we’ll see a lot more video calls, with in person meetings being reserved for a select few.
The other huge benefit of virtual networking is that geography doesn’t matter. The world is your market. This may not sound exciting if your focus is still local, but even if you want to meet people locally, it still means that you can build a broader network. I have met people local to me at events based thousands of miles away. Geography means nothing, so you can access resources anywhere in the world at the touch of a button.
Let’s talk about a few different forms that virtual networking can take: virtual speed networking, social media networking, and virtual conferences.
Virtual Speed Networking
Speed networking, similar to speed dating, was a novelty of the networking world in person. The idea was that networkers at an event would be randomly assigned together to chat for a few minutes, and if they hit it off they could set a follow up.
It was so uncommon because, at a networking event, most people can get the same effect by mingling.
With Zoom being a dominant platform, there is a challenge. Everyone is in the same room and can’t break off to smaller conversations. In virtual speed networking, the organizer uses the breakout room functionality to randomly assign people together. Each pair or group has a few minutes to connect, determine if a one to one is prescribed, and then on to the next.
There are different variations. Some are straight speed networking with a series of pairs thrown together. Others are more complex with different length rounds, door prizes, conversation starting questions, and other bells and whistles.
Regardless of the form, the virtual speed networking event is built around the quirks of the Zoom platform to give people the chance to connect and schedule lots of one to ones to build future relationships.
Social Media Networking
You’re probably not new to social media, but you may not have thought about it as a networking platform.
What are you trying to do in a networking environment, whether it’s a live event or a virtual event? You’re sifting through various people to determine whom you might have something in common with. Can you help them? Can they help you? Do you have things to talk about?
Now look at social media, especially Facebook and LinkedIn. Do you think you can answer these questions there? You bet you can!
As I said before, it’s all about the one to ones. So, when you remember that the end goal is getting people on a video chat, a call, or to a meeting, social media makes a lot more sense as a networking platform.
You’re able to look at someone’s posts and profile to determine if you want to get to know them. Once you have identified a reason they would be good for you to connect with, you can contact them, share those reasons and offer a meeting with your calendar link.
Most people will accept this offer. After all, who doesn’t have half an hour to make a new connection?
There are good virtual conferences and there are bad virtual conferences. I’m going to editorialize here a little bit. You may or may not agree with me, but I feel that one of the key value propositions of any conference is the ability to meet other people who are attending the conference.
So many virtual conferences focus exclusively on the speakers and don’t allow any peer to peer contact, or networking, to occur. In my eyes those are bad conferences. If I wanted to watch someone talk at me, I could watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast.
At such a conference there will some kind of technology that allows you to have chats with various attendees with video chat, and that’s a great place to make connections. You have the conference in common so you have something to talk about, so the connection is already warm.
Some events don’t have a video chat feature but still have some kind of chat. Depending on the format, you may be able to use the chat to connect with people. This is a place where having Calendly or Hubspot or something else that makes setting appointments easy is crucial. If you can drop a link in the chat, likeminded networkers may schedule a one to one with you.
Remember, one to ones are the goal, no matter how you get them.
One final thought. Be open to connecting. My personal policy is that I will take a 30 minute call with anyone who asks for it. I don’t care if they’re a salesman, politician, or random shmoe. If they want to talk, I’ll listen. Sometimes this time is wasted, but sometimes I discover amazing potential.
Even if it’s a sales pitch, I might learn something, or I might discover that this salesperson is a good person to know. Afterall, if I’m their target audience, they probably know a lot of people like me. I like people like me!
In this talk, we discussed three tips for all networking: Givers Gain, the Networking Attitude, and Follow Up. We talked about three kinds of virtual networking: virtual speed networking, social media networking, and virtual conferences.
While the world is highly disrupted during the pandemic, the potential of virtual networking to grow your connections exponentially is incredible and must be embraced.
If you’re looking for a great conference that really gets the networking idea, I encourage you to join us at the conference I run Conference21. Details at www.conference21.com
You can get a copy of my book, The Guy Who Knows A Guy at book.guywhoknowsaguy.com
And I’d love to connect with you directly. As I said, I’ll spend a half hour getting to know anyone who is interested. Visit my web site, www.guywhoknowsaguy.com and click the link on the side to schedule a call.
My name is Michael Whitehouse. I so appreciate you taking the time to listen to this talk, and I encourage you to embrace all the exciting potential this new virtual networking space has to offer.