When the pandemic finally arrived in Vancouver in March, businesses started to close, work meetings moved to Zoom, and I was cut off from friends and family. COVID-19 became a sci fi movie roaming the streets of my real life. As an entrepreneur who relied on making connections to get business, I wondered, “How I could network during a pandemic?” And how could I do it effectively?
In my pre-pandemic life, I used to attend networking events. I went to networking breakfasts and seasonal events like a Christmas yacht party. I met people, collected business cards, and shook many hands. Of course, those activities seem appalling now. Like me, you’re probably wondering, “What was I thinking, shaking hands without carrying hand sanitizer?”
Like me, you’re probably wondering, “What was I thinking, shaking hands without carrying hand sanitizer?”
Life was different back then. As pre-pandemic shifted to pandemic, more activities moved online, and “Zoom” became a household word. You didn’t sit at a boardroom table for meetings; you sat at your kitchen table and stared at a checkerboard pattern of people in different rooms.
Over the next few months, I adjusted to wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants instead of a shirt and slacks. I got used to reaching out to the world through my computer instead of experiencing the world in person. In doing so, I found some effective ways to network online.
I’ll share with you my top three ways to network, starting with a platform that had existed before the pandemic.
In-Person or Online
A year ago, Meetup.com was a great place to meet new people and experience new places. However, in 2020, it became taboo almost overnight to try to make new friends by gathering with a bunch of strangers.
A friend of mine terminated her Meetup group. Until March, she had organized dining events to try out different cuisines and meet people who signed up for these events. I enjoyed the conversations I had with new people. But she closed her group because she felt moving it online just didn’t have the same feeling.
I didn’t know what she meant until I signed up for a Meetup event with a different Meetup group. Their event was an online “zoom party.” The title sounded fun. It wasn’t.
What Happens At Zoom Parties
This is what happened: one person talked at a time. There were between 14 to 16 people on the Zoom, and only one person could speak at a time or you would get a jumble of dialogue.
Also, if you’re interested in what the speaker has to say, then you’ll have a good time. But if you don’t know what obscure food or obscure movie she’s talking about, then you may wilt from boredom.
Unlike an in-person event, you couldn’t side bar to another conversation.
Unlike an in-person event, you couldn’t side bar to another conversation. You could listen to that one conversation on Zoom, or you could doodle, check your messages, or pick up your phone and wander around aimlessly until the topic changes.
I quickly learned a chat room of strangers talking about random things wasn’t fun at all.
More about Zoom later. Meanwhile, I was experimenting with meeting people on Facebook groups. I was ambitious enough to search through a couple dozen of these groups in search of like-minded people.
Tips For Finding Groups
It can be tedious to read through dozens of Facebook group descriptions to find the right ones to join. Some descriptions were so long and detailed that I perfected my speed-reading skills. As I searched through these groups, I kept some specific criteria in mind:
- Group member count. I like groups with a few thousand or more members because it increases my chances of making quality connections. Also with bigger groups, there tends to be more interactions.
- Number of posts per day. I’ve joined some writing groups that have one post every few hours. I look for networking opportunities, possible freelancing gigs, and interesting posts from other business owners. I avoid groups that don’t have an active membership.
- Group objective that’s in line with mine. This is the most important factor. I read the Facebook group description to see if their goals match mine. My favored groups have a lot of job postings, advice postings, or cross-promotional activities. In some cases, I’ve found links to useful websites or free online courses.
I’ve joined a handful of groups in a few months, made some connections, and found some freelance opportunities. I’ll continue to make connections in these groups, even if people start meeting in person again.
Networking on Zoom
Making connections online is a great way to expand your professional circle but exchanging messages doesn’t have the same human interaction as hearing a voice or seeing a live face. Although Zoom wasn’t the best platform for me to meet new people socially, I found it a powerful tool to meet people professionally.
I like networking professionally on Zoom. These events, or meetings, follow a very strict format with the purpose of increasing your opportunities to make business connections or find clients.
If you’re new to Zoom, it’s easy to become obsessed with looking at yourself and analyzing your imperfections.
Networking on Zoom is a little different than finding connections in person. In a way, it’s not natural. You’re staring at an assortment of faces and they are all staring back. If you’re new to Zoom, it’s easy to become obsessed with looking at yourself and analyzing your imperfections. Me for example, I keep wondering why my head is tilted sideways. I certainly don’t feel like I’m off kilter.
Zoom Call Tips
In that sense, it’s more relaxing to network in person. You’re just looking at the one or two people you are speaking to, and everyone else in the room isn’t even facing you. Better yet, it’s not as unnerving when you can’t see yourself talking to the person across from you. Somehow, we look better in our heads than in the mirror.
On Zoom, the good thing is everyone else is probably either self-consciously watching themselves or looking at the speaker. If you’re new to Zoom meetings, the hardest part may be the introductions, when you provide your name and occupation. Then if you aren’t talking, chances are, you’ll fade into the background.
To look good and sound good on Zoom, I have these quick tips:
- Have a strong internet connection. Otherwise, you will sound like you are underwater as your connection lags.
- Check if you’re on mute when you’re speaking. I’ve wondered why people ignored me when I was speaking. Or people watch you as your mouth silently moves.
- Check your lighting. I’ve vanished because the virtual background isn’t mixing well with my image.
- Sit in a place with minimal furnishings. If your background is busy, Zoom attendees will definitely be checking out your surroundings. I was intrigued by one attendee’s plentiful collection of wall ornaments.
Zoom business meetings are here to stay as people continue to work remotely, and businesses connect globally. I have extended my network reach beyond my city to people in other provinces and other countries. With in-person meetups, I was limited to those who could show up at a specific time and at a specific place. Zoom has opened up more possibilities.
I’ve joined business groups and connected with members. Having regular meeting times, agendas, and a directory of members makes it easier to build long term relationships. When you attend meetings on a regular basis, group members get to know you and what you do.
It’s a way to build trust, and trust is a powerful type of advertising.
It’s a way to build trust, and trust is a powerful type of advertising. Many members have formed business partnerships, referred business and clients to each other, or promoted a member’s business to someone they know.
In my case, a chance meeting at one event connected me with a business owner whom I am now working with for content marketing. All it takes is a one-time connection at any one of the group’s events.
It does take time to find the right group and build connections. I joined several Facebook and online Zoom groups before I found people I connected with. It’s a little like speed dating, but without a host. Eventually, if you put in the time, you get the right fit.
Human connections are important. Although we cannot meet in person like we did less than half a year ago, it is still possible to network during a pandemic and meet potential clients and business partners.
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