Big Lessons Learned: Networking and Establishing Presence in a Virtual World


Big Lessons Learned Networking and Establishing Presence in a Virtual World (Mentor AMA).png


85% of your career opportunities will come from your network, yet the switch to remote work has many shying away from making new connections, whether because of Zoom fatigue or sheer intimidation.

While the means of doing so have shifted, maintaining authentic relationships is just as important now as it was pre-COVID, even as the corporate landscape remains primarily virtual.

To demystify the art of networking online, three of The Forem’s mentors — Cachet Prescott, Jennifer Litwin, and Scott Vejdani — convened to share their insights for behind-the-screen relationship building. Here are four key pro-tips from the panel.

1. Identify a goal for each meeting.

There’s nothing more awkward than meeting someone for the first time and finding out you have nothing to talk about. But preparing for each networking discussion with a plan in place goes a step further than that.

If you only practice reaching outside your circle when you need something (like a job), you likely won’t have strong enough relationships at that point to assure a favorable response. Meaning: you need to get ahead of the game by finding more immediately appropriate motivations for connecting.

For example, Jennifer Litwin, Vice President and Head of Financial Services at The Forem, recommends going on “listening tours” with the people in your org. Make it a point of finding three or so new people to connect with each week and ask them questions: what brought you to this work? What are you excited about right now? The goal here is simple: to build trust among colleagues, which (while seemingly small) can have a lasting impact.

In the virtual realm, this sort of networking can be as casual as a Slack message or even a sub for the awkward “how’s the weather?” chats that take place before the Zoom meeting commences.

Scott Vejdani, Executive Director of Media Services at Catalina, reminds us that you should be sure to also balance out your network with new connections outside of your org. For these types of meetings, his advice is to approach the conversation as a way to pressure test new ideas or seek best practices for a project you’re working on.

It’s an honest, honorable motivation that will easily guide the discussion AND add value that you can both walk away with. Better yet: it positions you as someone they could also bounce ideas off of or potentially collaborate with in the future.

2. Know your “five-minute give”

It’s a best practice to enter each new connection knowing what you can offer the other person. And let us assure you…there is always something you can offer. It doesn’t have to be something life-changing or even insightful. In fact, some of the most impactful, telling things you can offer someone when you’re first getting to know them will be modest.

Cachet Prescott, Director of People Experience at Arcadia Consulting and Founder of Shift Matters, merges concepts from Adam Grant’s “five minute favor” and Gay Hendricks’ “zone of genius” to inspire small things she can do throughout the day to help other colleagues that will also play into her personal brand.

Maybe you’re a great editor…you can offer quick reads of client emails. Perhaps you’re a presentation wizard…offer to provide feedback on your colleagues’ deck.

Cachet adds that sometimes even offering a listening ear can be enough. If you notice a team member is a little off in a meeting, send a quick note to check in on them.

3. Be organized with your follow-up

Expanding your network can become a little disorienting if you don’t create a system for knowing when and how to reach out again (let alone WHO is worth that second date).

Each time you network with someone (especially the first time), take a few moments afterward to jot down details from the conversation that you can use later in a follow-up.

Scott recommends starting a spreadsheet including each new person’s name, email, role/company, and a few personal notes you remember from the discussion. Having these stored in a place you can easily reference will help to jog your memory when the time comes around to touch base again. (If you are a Member at The Forem, you can store your notes directly in the Networking Hub.)

Jennifer adds that popping big life events from your network into your calendar (weddings, due dates, big presentations, etc.) as you learn them is also a simple habit to adopt. Not only do these reminders give you a meaningful reason to reach out; acting on them sends the message to your network that you: 1. Were listening intently at your last meeting, and 2. Are sincerely interested in maintaining and building the relationship.

Remember: running a marathon sprint of first meetings will get you nowhere if you don’t commit to fostering those connections in the long-term.

4. Avoid video fatigue

Of course, after staring at your computer all day for work, it can be difficult to voluntarily prolong that screentime with yet another meeting.

Do yourself a favor and be proactive with your screen stamina.

Scott puts it plainly: “not every meeting has to be a Zoom meeting.” While the first time you network with someone (at least nowadays) will most likely be on a video call, you can prep earlier in the day by pushing meetings with established colleagues to your cell phone. Get some fresh air and walk around the block. Oftentimes the depth of the conversation shifts when the intimidation of the screen view is removed.

Citing a study from Stanford, Scott adds that minimizing your self-view and backing away from the camera can also do wonders for your Zoom-induced tension. Never in real life do we have conversations with one another while glancing at a mirror image of ourselves, nor do we stand so close that we can only see each other’s heads.

The self-critique you endure while staring at yourself, and the fight-or-flight response you internalize when seemingly way too close to the other person, culminate in an uncomfortable cognitive overload (that can easily be avoided).

These small adjustments can do wonders for your confidence and energy levels when logging on to greet new faces.