Back to In-Person Networking – 6.2.2021

This season on Zoom networking is getting shorter. In-person networking is getting back to full swing as more and more people have been vaccinated here in the United States (prayers that our friends in other countries start to see this shift soon). How I love being able to get out and see people again. I know many are feeling the same way.

Over the past year, my networking space has been my chair.  I have shared my story and that of my company with people I haven’t known on a regular basis.

At first, it was really awkward.  I fumbled through my words.  I was brief – too brief – in my description of my company so no one really knew what we did.  I was guarded and shy.  Over time, and partially because I’ve spent the past two years trying to improve my public speaking through Toastmasters (shout out to the wonderful Mundelein Toastmasters club!), I became more fluid.

During the past year, I encountered a couple of unexpected situations:

  • There is a language to sales and networking that experienced salespeople assume you know. I remember the first time I heard, “Who are your power partners?”  I was completely mystified as to what that meant.
  • Networking groups have lots of rules. Navigating them can be a little tricky at times. Previously most of my networking was in the commercial real estate space, and I’ve always felt that anyone was welcome. I discovered other groups place restrictions on the number of business people in each field for attendance.  If an existing member does some form of marketing, they may be able to exclude me from attendance or membership.
  • Everyone wants a one-on-one. In times where it was so hard to meet people in person, the new online meeting format expanded my network (probably growing 300%) which was amazing.  But OH-SO-MANY one-on-one calls!  I can’t even quantify at this point how many people I’ve spoken with or introductions I’ve made.  It’s been a whirlwind of new contacts, new concepts, new ideas.  I like it, but it’s a lot!

Fast forward — present networking.

I went to an in-person event for a networking group I just joined this spring. It was possibly the first time I’d ever walked into a space where I didn’t know anyone since college freshman orientation.  I felt awkward.  I wasn’t prepared well with my elevator pitch – I’d been on a conference call until I parked and then hurried in 20 minutes late only to have everyone look at me and ask me to introduce myself immediately.  I sat and listened to the various conversations around me, and was a fringe participant in one of them until another attendee mentioned a situation where I felt that I could provide an introduction and make a meaningful contribution. It wasn’t until then that I felt comfortable.  I may have messed up my own introduction but I could offer something of real value and we could forge an authentic connection.

Then, I hosted my first in-person networking event for NICAR (the Northern Illinois Commercial Association of Realtors).  For the past 5.5 years, we have had a commercial real estate broker breakfast every other month that consistently draws around 20 brokers and industry professionals.  We moved to Zoom during the pandemic, which was fine, but being in person gave me an interesting opportunity to contrast to the past year of networking.  In addition to seeing some of my nearest and dearest, career-long friends, we had several new people who were there who had been introduced to NICAR during the pandemic.  How cool is that!  Our organization grew and our efforts to stay connected actually worked!

Here are some funny dichotomies between Zoom and in-person that I think you will find during your re-entry phase, too:

On Zoom, when you speak, everyone is equal.  We are flat players on a flat-screen. In a room, if you are the only one speaking, all eyes are on you.  Heads turn and eyes lock.

On Zoom, only one person can talk at a time in a group and you have to schedule a separate meeting for one-on-one conversations.  In-person, though, people can have side conversations and you can talk one-on-one freely with a whole room full of people in sequence.

On Zoom, I can hide my background with strategic placement of the camera and my body, including the doorway where my kids roam in and out.  I fill my screen – a new friend had to ask how tall I am before our in-person meeting.  I can add the “touch up appearance” button.  In-person, my family gets to stay out of my networking, which they love, and people can see that I’m 5 foot 1 inch tall and forgot to put on mascara.

I am striving to use the skills I learned in my armchair networking in person now, and I can genuinely say that whether it is in person or on Zoom, I hope to see you soon!