Post-pandemic Lori has found attending events, especially after work hours, harder.
I was slowly returning to in-person events after things opened back up from COVID. My dad had Parkinson’s Disease, and absences at school for my daughter meant she was missing lots of learning without an online option. I was looking to avoid the risk of COVID as best I could.
Finally, when things felt more settled, I mustered up the strength and attended an evening event in Boston. Old Lori would have jumped at the chance to see people, but this time was different. I spent the entire day telling myself, “You are going to this event. No excuses. It’ll be fun.” and “Once you get there, it will be fine. You’ll meet great people!” I then get to the event and spend 10 minutes in my car, staring at my destination, willing myself to unbuckle the seatbelt and just get in there.
I wouldn’t consider myself an introvert (an ambivert, perhaps), but my social battery has required much more charging since the pandemic. Based on lots of conversations I’ve had with colleagues, I’m not the only one.
Despite all this, there is great power and potential in networking. As a business owner who works from home, it’s essential for me to meet new people and share my mission (I’m told it’s also healthy to leave your house every once in a while). In fact, the events I’ve attended in the past year have built many new and beautiful friendships and opportunities.
So, how do you manage walking into a room full of strangers? Here are a few strategies that have helped me make the most of networking opportunities.
- Set a goal. Years ago, a good friend gave me the best advice for networking. She said to create a goal each time you approach a networking event. The plan she shared with me, which I still use today, is to meet five people you didn’t know before the event. After you’ve met those five people, you can leave or stay if you’re having fun. Having this number in my head has helped me get over the hump of walking into a space where I might not know anyone. My introverted friends say this helps them know how soon they can leave.
- Have a pitch. I love my businesses, which means I can dive down a rabbit hole and struggle to get back up at any moment. Rabbit holes happen when you run into someone who loves what they do! Instead of leaving it up to chance, I’ve created an elevator pitch that clarifies what I do and who my work is for. My theory is if you build on the natural curiosity of humans, they will ask follow-up questions about you and your work. Your job is not to talk at a person, but to have a conversation. I always find myself asking lots of questions when I meet folks who are working on inspiring projects. You naturally want to learn more!
- Be authentic and curious. Honestly, just be yourself and ask questions about others. Don’t worry about overly impressing the people you’re talking to or keeping up an appearance. By being authentic to yourself, you will find it easier to connect with folks. One of my favorite stories was when I arrived at an event alone and was late and struggling to find someone to talk to. I saw a person standing by herself against a wall, and I walked up to her and asked, “Are you by yourself, too?” It started not only a great conversation but a wonderful friendship!
Networking can be challenging, but it is essential for building awareness about yourself and your business. Lastly, don’t forget to follow up with the folks you met afterward. Connect on LinkedIn, send an email or both. This last step will help build a stronger connection with folks who could be your next boss, client, or friend.