2021, so far, is the 13th month of 2020. But, there is hope.
While hope catches up with reality, some of us have adapted and made the best out of the networking that has been available. From someone who has experienced nearly every attempt at online handshaking and congregation, here are the five things I look for before allocating time to an event:
1) End Users/Customers as Speakers. I focus on events and webinars that host the decision makers. In the federal space, it’s events where department agency leads are speakers. In the business world, it’s the end users or customers who employ various technology or solutions. These speakers are the most credible and have no “horse in the race” when it comes to solving problems. Neutrality is good.
2) Third-party hosts. Digital events are being hosted by everyone now. Invitations to webinars are clogging my inbox, from associations, media outlets, think tanks or working groups. Even suppliers and contractors host their own events. I’ll take the third-party events every time. They attract a broader and more diverse audience to build a network of contacts. They tend to have speakers from the end user/customer community (see #1 above) and if they have suppliers, they have many to interact with vs. just one.
3) Attendance numbers. Large virtual events, like their in-person counterparts, lack the intimacy necessary to have meaningful conversations, ask questions of a presenter, or “visit” with all those with whom you would like to visit. Networking in these environments is often broad and surface level vs. the deeper connections made at smaller events. I may attend these but don’t hold it against me if I multi-task.
4) Watercooler atmosphere. I look for groups where the conversation is familiar, as are the faces. Over a period of time, trust is formed and the networking provides all participants with a community that goes far beyond typical networking. Business leads are exchanged, education for the group occurs, and personal connections can be made. The conversation is comfortable and casual and helps nurture the soul as much as the mind and one’s professional endeavors. Examples of this have included Government Marketing University’s IDEATION calls, Mark Amtower’s GovCon Water Cooler, and ATARC’s biweekly Skynet, Star Trek, Socrates and Scotch meet-ups. Seriously, many of us who have never met in person now enjoy each other’s company like – wait for it – work friends.
5) Grow in my profession. Partnerships are what I create. In creating partnerships, it helps to learn from others in a similar role. Any virtual event that offers professional development is always a “must-attend.” Are their webinars on networking and creating cross-discipline opportunities? Yes, there are webinars on everything.
One last caveat in all this is to account for time. Building a trusted and reliable network can take some time during “normal times.” Accomplishing the same goals when your primary way of connecting is digitally-based can take two or three times longer. Be patient and be prepared to put in more effort.
We’re still in pandemic mode. However, the need to network, connect and partner has remained, if not increased, in necessity. While digital connection has come a long way in acceptance and ease, I personally can’t wait until this is over.
When it is over, a leisurely coffee is on me.
Tom is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Market Development at Merit. He matches people and companies with opportunities. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org