Reframing the New Networking Normal

Reframing the New Networking Normal

Are we in the process of reframing what connectivity looks like and is a new networking normal emerging from the frames presented on screen?

When you log in to an online business or networking event, do you look at the celebrity squares or bouncing bubbles on screen bursting with an eclectic mix of eager faces and have the same feelings as you did when you walked into a room of networkers, whether they were familiar or strangers?

  • Has your view of people changed?
  • Has your behaviour adapted?
  • Was it due a facelift?
    Has our online, technical hand been forced, perhaps for the better?
  • Are you enjoying the “current networking normal” or disliking the experience?
  • Are you energised or exhausted by virtual connectivity?
  • Have your objectives changed? (because chances are the raison d’etre of the people in front of you has).
  • Do you embrace the potential opportunity that lies before you on the screen to embrace every chance encounter? (as we can in life generally)
  • Do you view each one of those faces as a potential solution in life or in business?
  • Bigger still, do you allow yourself to believe that each frame or circle might contain a character that could enrich your network of connections, maybe even become the right connection to enter your inner circle of trust – a member of 1 of your tribes?

In a world that is increasingly online, there is a new networking normal appearing, as there is a new normal generally, and we’re far from seeing exactly what that means yet. Right now, we’re in a state of limbo, a no-man’s land, a work in progress caught between the old way and the new way. A current networking normal exists but it’s still mutating.

The face of networking is evolving rapidly. Logistically thigs differ of course with the use of tools such as Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, Skype, Webex and others as we moved almost overnight away from traditional face-to-face to online events. But how we connect at a behavioural level and why has also changed.

Whatever happens, it is clear that the new era of networking will require a re-evaluation of our skillset and an improved focus on our ‘Networking Why’ and the Why of those we encounter.

Expectations, needs and behaviour are shifting.
At long bloody last more networkers are networking for the right reasons too.

Online networking is nothing new of course. We’ve had social media for years.

For some people, networking on screen via social media or by joining events always presented an easier and more time-efficient option than having to travel to an event and then spend hours encountering strangers and enduring awkward small talk.

For others, the magnification of on-screen presence, the exhausting concentration required of attendees cooped up in little squares or bubbles, and the time delays and juggling of technology have presented interesting, challenging and of course amusing dynamics.

Despite the time efficiencies offered by online and social networking, many still say they would prefer its face-to-face counterpart.

I don’t disagree. As a proponent of networking events and skills coaching since 2008, the business and reputation I’ve built has been focused on in-person connection time. More time consuming perhaps but (for me) more genuine. A time investment I believed was worthwhile to really connect, engage, empathise, relate, and get under someone’s skin.

My approximate equation was always that 10 online meet-ups equalled 1 face-to-face. I have always been an advocate of investing in both on and offline connection but with the emphasis on face-to-face.

Given a choice, balance is still critical. But, choice is not available just now – though that’s now all bad news. The concept of networking may have been turned upside down as far as the standard expectations.

But,
the networking world has also had a reminder of the real reasons it exists. Less prospecting and more support, collaboration, connection, learning, and self-development.

Lockdown has achieved in a few short weeks what genuine networkers have been advocating for years. I’m possibly not alone is witnessing more authenticity, transparency, honesty, integrity and humanity than even before.

Real networking is now burning through the previous crxp. People have genuine needs, are happy to share true feelings and fears, show vulnerabilities and there’s more help on offer than ever, most of it sincere.

The cessation of physical events may have occurred but many organisers have dealt swiftly and sensitively with the changes, communicating with members and attendees to assure them of event continuity and commitment and offering a host of free support too.

The logistics of networking may well have entered a new era but the founding premise has not. Now more than ever, connection at a human level, both for personal as well as business support, is critical. Through that support and the relationships that strengthen, opportunity will in time flourish once again.

For now, we must assess our skills for connecting online if we were previously just a face-to-face networker. We need to be prepared to reframe how networking will work in the future.

Networking is not dead and never will be as a premise because human beings are social creatures. It also has a vital part to play in the marketing mix as an integral and cost-effective element that can provide evidence of consistency, visibility and agility to your market and associates at a critical time of adaptation.

May the “new networking normal” when it crystallises combine with the original formats for a much better balance in future. May we learn to reframe our perception of what networking should be and what true connection is. And may we embrace the value that sits before us in those on-screen frames.

By Kirsty James, Owner, Colony Networking

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Kirsty James is a business consultant who offers networking strategy and skills training, business development planning, idea generation, brokering connections and signposting to suitable business support groups and local events. She also run Colony Networking events in Warrington, Liverpool,Chester, Newton, and Alderley Edge, co-hosts #LinkedInLocal in Manchester and Warrington, is curator for TEDx Warrington, and assists third parties to organise their own lead generation events and workshops.

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