Networking is Back: What’s Your Post-COVID Opening?

At a recent coaching session with my client Jason, we found ourselves talking about networking. Jason said, “I think in-person business events are coming back. That means networking is back. I’m out of practice. How do I restart? What’s my post-COVID opening?”

Those are good questions! Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that in-person conferences, industry trade shows, and business events seem to be making a comeback as well. That’s exciting! But like Jason, you may be feeling that your networking skills are a bit rusty. And how do you break the ice with two years of COVID hanging over everyone’s head? So let’s take a fresh look at networking.

Networking is Back — and it’s Important

First, yes, networking is still important. Whether we’re connecting one-on-one, or reaching out at a large trade show, we are human, and our network of colleagues, associates, collaborators, and allies is meaningful. Networking helps us learn, share, expand our reach, and build trust. It is fundamental to our success. There was a solid story in Forbes about the value of networking. It’s pre-COVID, but I think the benefits still hold true.

Here are some specific strategic and tactical refreshers — even for those who do not like to network!

I Need a Post-COVID Opening!

Jason said, “How do I break the ice after more than two years?” This was what we talked about the most.

COVID has been more traumatic for some than for others. More stressful and anxiety-ridden for some than for others. Many have contracted COVID themselves, lost loved ones, and had their relationships and daily routines turned upside down. Some don’t want to talk about it anymore. Some do. Any opening ice breaker has to navigate a minefield of potentially sensitive or upsetting possibilities.

Here’s what made sense to Jason. Consider whether these approaches might help you too:

Don’t avoid it. It’s important to have a professionally appropriate way to ask about the last two years. You need to be prepared to acknowledge the pandemic and be able to say something meaningful without avoiding the topic completely.

Acknowledge the weirdness. Be open to recognizing and accepting the fact that the past two years have been strange, that no one was prepared for it, and that it affected everyone in different ways.

Be gentle! Make the start of your conversation and your opening question kind and sympathetic. Avoid anything that might be interpreted as cavalier, presumptuous, or judgmental.

“How has this year been going for you?” This is a good open-ended question, and one that presumes nothing. For the person you are speaking with, COVID may have been a soul- and business-crushing experience, or just something else to deal with, or it might have actually created a dynamic creative burst, or a business boom, depending on the individual’s personal situation or their industry (just ask Netflix).

“How are things different for you than they were last year?” This is also a good open-ended question that avoids judgment. This question can help trigger a conversation about change, and thoughts they have about moving forward or emerging business trends.

A couple weeks after our conversation, Jason attended the first trade show he’s been to since the fall of 2019. These networking strategies helped Jason get his feet back on the ground, and got him comfortable reconnecting with old contacts and reaching out to new people in an open, genuine way.

To learn more about communication, networking, and developing your leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.