Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the life of each and every American just over a month ago, three conferences I was supposed to attend were canceled, and the expectation is that many more will be canceled in the year to come. Microsoft recently announced that all of their “in-person” events through July 2021 will now be held online.
Many people, as a result, have given up on any idea of professional networking. We can’t meet someone for coffee in an effort to find our next great job opportunity. We can’t attend a networking event as we try to grow our business. Unemployment rates have shattered all historic levels, and the fear of a financial recession, if not depression, are becoming more and more realistic every day.
Almost everything is more challenging now than it was just a few short months ago, and yet I would argue this is the perfect time to be networking.
For instance, we are all craving human connection. Friends who I have not heard from for years (in one case for more than 30 years) are reaching out over text and email just to check in, just to say hi. Family reunions are happening over Zoom. High school reunions are happening over Zoom.
We can carry this over to our professional world, and we can look to the practice of Working Out Loud as a guide to how we can continue to our networking efforts from the confines and comfort f our home, while safely quarantined.
John Stepper, author of the book Working Out Loud writes that “Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.”
Stepper outlines five elements of Working Out Loud, and these elements serve as the perfect guide to helping us maintain vital connections and sustain forward movement while forced to stay at home.
1. RELATIONSHIPS: “Relationships are at the heart of Working Out Loud” (John Stepper)
Now is a perfect time to inventory the people you know, and the people that you would like to know. Everyone is a little more active on social networking platforms than they were before the pandemic began. Make sure you stay connected with your network on Twitter and LinkedIn, and make sure you are taking advantage of opportunities to connect with other leaders in your organization and in your industry. Though this may not be the time to ask for a promotion or a new job, this is the ideal time to create new connections, to create new relationships and to expand your network.
2. GENEROSITY: “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” (Keith Ferrazzi)
It’s not what you can get, it’s what you can give. It’s not what you can collect, it’s what you can share. As you continue to connect with people you know online, and as you continue to expand your network with new professional and personal contacts, do so with generosity in mind. Be generous, because you have a lot to be generous with, probably more than you realize. You have valuable, unique experiences that will help people reflect, that will amuse people, that will teach people. You have information and expertise to share, and you can use that to grow your network. The more you can give, the more you will get, and you have a lot to give. Believe it.
3. VISIBLE WORK: “You don’t have to be a social media maven to work out loud. You can do it over coffee and email.” (John Stepper)
As people consider new ways to connect with each other over social networking, consider new ways you can make your work visible. Don’t worry about “at” mentioning people, don’t worry about hashtags, just share what you are working. Talk about current projects, current challenges and current successes. Share one thing you learned today. Share one thing you would like to learn today. The more visible you make your work, the more connections you will make, the more opportunities you will find.
4. PURPOSEFUL DISCOVERY: “Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective.” (John Stepper)
Scroll through your Twitter feed. Click on a couple of links. Watch a YouTube video. It’s easy to lose track of time. It’s easy to get lost. It’s also easy to get lost as you share information, regardless of how generous you are able to be. Make your networking and your work on social platforms more meaningful by having a goal in place. Decide on what you want to learn, who you want to connect with, or something you want to achieve. Guide your online activities so they are always in pursuit of that goal. You will find the effort to be more rewarding, and you will likely have more success.
5. GROWTH MINDSET: “…develop a more open, curious approach to work and life.” (John Stepper)
We are all a little down these days. We want to engage with people at work, and we can’t. We want to spend time with friends, and we can’t. Personally, I would love to just sit at a bar and order a burger and a beer. Oh how I miss that. While we certainly don’t want to fool ourselves into thinking that things are better than they are, there is still so much to learn and so much to achieve. This is a great time to engage in learning and experimentation. Adding to our personal collection of information and knowledge is always a good thing, as is exploring and trying new things. This is a great time to make your first tweet. It is a perfect time to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Read that book that has been on your nightstand.
The pandemic has changed everything, and certainly nothing takes the place of sitting across the table from someone and having a good conversation. This does not mean that we can still find ways to be engaged in generosity, transparency, networking and growth. Use the tools and platforms available to you. Share what you know. Learn what you need. Expand your circle.
NOTE: Keep your eyes out for the new edition of Working Out Loud by John Stepper, available May 12, 2020