Isn’t it embarrassing to “relearn” something you knew? It’s even worse when it’s something you get others to do and you realise your error as somebody asks you a question? A couple of months into lockdown that was me. I was embarrassed into realising I’d not spent as much effort on my network, so I started to be more proactive again. It was time to focus on virtual networking, and it’s been good.
Lockdown provided plenty of learning opportunities for us all and now that it’s starting to unlock perhaps its time to embed the learning for the next stage. Let’s be honest “yipee, it’s time to go networking“, isn’t a thing most introverts I know have ever said, but we may all be going out again soon.
Networking as a way to get business, or a way to develop one’s career, can be effective. The last few months changed how we met others and business networking meetings went virtual. Is virtual networking for introverts easier, or harder, than “real” networking? Should introverts focus on more virtual networking in future? What will you do as face to face networking opens up again?
What’s virtual networking?
Virtual networking is developing your network and the relationships with the people in it, for a purpose, without face to face meetings.
Probably you’d physically meet others in your network, whether for a coffee, a chat over lunch, by the printer, or at a networking meeting. Chances are that’s not been happening because of lockdown. Most business networking groups continued in lockdown by having virtual networking meetings. After lockdown I predict many more people will “meet” virtually.
The advantages of virtual networking meetings
- Time: Meeting somebody virtually has a great saving, time. Not having to travel can mean we can do more networking (err hang on Jon, you’re talking to fellow introverts), or use the time saved to quietly reflect, energise and focus.
- Focus: Virtually meeting people can allow you more focus and flexibility – who you meet, when you meet and allow you to not meet as many energy vampires (those people who leave you feeling drained).
- Knowing people better: Most importantly it’s been really good to get to know people better. Sometimes on zoom, sometimes on the phone while walking in the park (changes the dynamic), but always chatting a bit about business and a bit about the person. Without the distractions of other people around and no distracting journeys; it’s been really good to get to know people.
The disadvantages of virtual networking meetings
- Body language: Less body language cues, can make it harder to communicate. Many introverts find zoom more tiring as they concentrate on seeking out the missing body language cues.
- Inertia. It’s easy not to do anything, as there’s less formal prompts to meet. To make it work I needed to go back to my most important contacts list and start contacting them.
- What others would you add?
Virtual networking for introverts
Effective networking is developing the relationships with the people in your network. That doesn’t need a formal meeting or even a physical meeting. Zoom, or the phone, is an effective way of getting to know somebody and working more closely with them – that’s networking.
If you know you need to do more virtual networking, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I thinking about networking? Reminding yourself of your networking goal may help.
- Who do I really want to meet? Virtual networking means you only have to spend time with people you choose. How will you focus on those you get on with and can help you achieve your networking goal?
- What will we talk about? A little prep (an introvert strength) will help. What’s been going in their business, sector, website, LinkedIn profile, etc. that you could ask for more details about? Easy questions are ones that relate to how has lockdown affected their plans for the future, what can you do to help?
- How will I fill an hour’s discussion? Having thought of a few questions, it’s time to think about yourself (sorry, I know introverts don’t do it that well). What messages do you want to put out there and what reality will you reveal. I don’t say that because I think you should be unreal, quite the opposite. Networking relies of getting to know each other, that means they need to get to know you. If you’re not happy revealing everything and anything, what are you happy to reveal?
Maybe lockdown is slowly unlocking, I don’t know. Maybe it won’t be long before we go out to meet people again, but I for one will lock in the benefits I’ve gained from virtual networking, I’ll be actively adding more virtual networking and doing a bit less face to face networking. What about you?
Charlie Lawson, author of "The Unnatural Networker" and Director of BNI-UK knows a thing or two about networking. Here's what he said about how introverts can improve their networking.