Earlier this year, one of my colleagues tossed out the idea of hosting a summer road show. We would visit our local chapters while supporting the return to in-person networking events. Never one to say no to travel, especially after two years of almost no travel, I agreed it was an incredible idea. We made a plan to visit ten chapters across the United States between June 26th and August 2nd.
In the end, we visited 8 cities between June 28th and August 2nd. We rescheduled two cities due to Covid.
Here are five lessons learned about networking & community:
1. It’s time to step outside of your comfort zone.
One thing I heard on repeat during these events was “I was so nervous, I didn’t know what to expect.” If you’re afraid of walking into a room and introducing yourself, I challenge you to find an event to show up to this month. Message me if you’d like some recommendations. It can be tied to an industry, location, hobby, anything. Just show up and set a goal to walk away with at least one new connection
2. Online presence still matters and can save you time
It’s great that many of us are starting to spend time AWK (as my kids say – Away From Keyboard) but don’t forget to keep your online profile updated! People will seek you out on LinkedIn, so make sure they’re seeing up-to-date information, including a current profile photo.
While it’s nice to be in person, don’t discount your virtual opportunities to connect. If I schedule a coffee meeting in person, that is likely going to block at least 2 hours on my calendar. The travel time plus in-person meetings always tends to run a bit longer. We pile so many things into our schedule – would a 20-minute virtual coffee meeting be sufficient? Be mindful of what you say yes to – protect your time on your calendar when possible!
3. Community is power
When you’re surrounded by people who genuinely care about you and your success, it provides you with a great boost of confidence and empowerment. At every single one of these events, I watched as our community of women supported and inspired one another. Some of these relationships spanned many years while others were brand new. Find your community and tap into the power that comes from that community.
4. Networking = Relationship Building
Networking events are not the place to sell your product or service or to make big asks. Be mindful about how you’re introducing yourself and use these opportunities to highlight what you do, without trying to sell. Relationship building must come first!
For every new person you meet, find a way to add value to their journey. When you add value, people remember you and that will go a very long way in helping pave the way for a longer, stronger relationship down the road.
5. Respect comfort zones
There is still a lot of hesitation about sharing spaces with strangers. While many are eager to be back in person, not everybody is ready for handshakes and hugs. Be mindful of those around you! A fist bump or wave works just as well as a handshake. Your comfort zone may be very different than somebody else’s. Respect their comfort zone!
It’s been over two years since we last hosted in-person networking events for the IAW community. While we were able to maintain a strong community virtually, seeing our members engage in the room was an incredible experience. Watching collaborations unfold and women feel supported & encouraged was truly inspiring. I’ll be sharing some specific moments & learning points from our panel discussions over the next few weeks.