Business Networking in Munchkinland?
Keep It Professional, Relational, and Cautiously Optimistic
If you’re wondering what networking has to do with Munchkinland…One of the most memorable scenes for me from the Wizard of Oz movie is when Glinda the Good Witch tells all the Munchkins of Munchkinland to come out to meet the young girl who freed them from the Wicked Witch of the East who was now lying dead under the house that fell on her from the sky.
Slowly, and ever so carefully, the Munchkins came out from their hiding places one by one to meet Dorothy.
As they approached Dorothy, they were unsure. But their protector, Glinda, told them they’d be safe. Finally, after being reassured the Wicked Witch of the East was dead, they welcomed Dorothy happily and with great celebration.
Getting Back to Networking in Person
As we’re coming out of the pandemic and beginning to network in person again, I feel like many people are behaving much like the Munchkins after Dorothy’s arrival. Many are coming out slowly and carefully. Some are just straight up unsure.
And for good reason. We live in a different world today than the world we were living in back in February of 2020, and an unexpected result of the changes is many people have forgotten how to network. I’ve gone to several in-person networking events over the past month or so, and I have to say that I’ve witnessed some interesting things.
Networking Novelty #1 – Business Card Blunder
First, people are leaving their business cards at home. Not because they’re trying to make a statement on saving trees. No. They’ve just gotten out of the habit.
I’ll admit that I walked into my first live networking event without any cards. Luckily, I always keep a box of them in the trunk of my car, so I was able to rectify that issue right away.
Networking Novelty #2 – Attendance Anomaly
Another anomaly I’ve noticed is that not every networking group is getting the same attendance it used to get pre-pandemic. While some networking groups are packing the house, others are barely filling enough seats for a single table. And if a networking group offers a hybrid option, more people are opting to stay home than attend in person.
What I’m finding so interesting is that many who complained they were ZOOMED out and couldn’t wait to meet live and in person again are, in fact, the same folks finding that they still like the convenience of not leaving their home or office to drive twenty to forty minutes away for a networking event.
I can honestly say that I never truly felt ZOOMED out and only had gratitude for the technology being available during such an opportune time in our history. That being said, I’m still attending ZOOM networking events, and I’ve been happily attending live networking events as well. And like others, I must admit I like saving gas when I attend the ZOOM events.
The Future of Business Networking
It’s not completely clear yet to me what direction business events will go. I can recall during the years immediately following the Great Recession of 2008, business networking groups were packed with business owners and salespeople desperate for a lead. One particular group I’d attend weekly would boast of being 100-members strong week after week. Today, the leadership of that same group is thrilled if 15 people attend.
The impact on businesses during the pandemic has been very different than during the Great Recession. We’re coming out of the crisis, yet there still seem to be a lot of unanswered questions about the future of the economy. The future of politics. The future of health care inside and outside the United States. The uncertainty has those in the business community reacting a lot like the Munchkin people coming out to meet Dorothy when they felt so unsure.
Back when I lived in Brooklyn, NY, a man I knew named Jay Gallagher would often say, “The future is friendly.” I believe that, live by it, and recognize the importance of keeping that mindset during times like these. I do truly believe the future is friendly and that things will improve significantly post-pandemic.
It’s not that I ignore reality or think there won’t be tough days ahead. I know there will. That’s just life, and there will always be tough days. But the sun also always appears again, and the world becomes a better place to live in again.
Jay, you’re correct. The future is friendly.
Reminders for Intentional Networking
So, let’s talk a little bit more about networking as we look to the friendly future. Here are some of the most important things to remember.
1. Keep it relational rather than transactional.
Whether we’re meeting in person or virtually, we still have to make an effort to establish relationships with the people we’re meeting and engaging with. We should never enter a networking event — virtually or in person — with a transactional mindset.
We must always go with the mindset that we’re there to meet other business owners and sales professionals we can develop relationships with, refer others in our network to, and be of service to. It’s almost all but guaranteed that when we do that, business will come back in our direction.
2. Take the time to chat – virtually or in person.
Whether I’m at a live in-person networking event or sitting in on a virtual gathering, I want to chat with people. If a virtual networking group has the chat turned off, that’s not the right group for me. For some people, that restriction works, and that’s okay. It just doesn’t for me. Again, I like to chat. When we’re on ZOOM, the chat feature is the closest thing I get to a handshake, and I’ve scheduled many a meeting and many a call as a result of it. And relationships have begun as a result.
To summarize, I believe the landscape of networking has changed and will continue to evolve for a period of time. No matter what that looks like in the future, we should always behave in an absolute professional manner whether networking in person or virtually.
We should always aim for relationships, develop a giver’s heart, and avoid a transactional mindset.
Regardless of what the media would have us believe, we should also keep the mindset that there are brighter days ahead. After all, there are. And probably much sooner than we realize.
Finally, when you attend a networking event, live and in-person, don’t forget your business cards!
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