Networking During a Pandemic Eric Byrd
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Networking During a Pandemic Eric Byrd
Episode 015: As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread in the US and around the world many parts of our normal lives will be disrupted. One of those will be the activities we participate in professionally, like networking. Groups, events and meetings are being canceled and this will significantly impact how we do business and keep in touch with our networks. It will mean less face to face activity for everyone, everywhere. It is bound to cause anxiety and worry about how we will continue to do what we do. In this episode Eric talks about some important things to consider as you think about what activities to participate in and how to participate safely. He also offers some thoughts on alternative ways to keep in touch and keep conversations going amid such a significant interruption to our normal, daily lives.
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This episode we don’t have an infographic. Instead here are some reputable links to get information about the coronavirus and COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s a strange time for all of us right now. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be unsure about what to do, but you don’t have to panic. We’re all in this together. Life will be different for awhile and so will networking,
Cordanna (Announcer) (00:12):
helping you make the most of your lead share or referral group. It’s the adventures and networking podcast. Here’s your host Eric Byrd.
As we figure out what’s happening around the world, I thought we should chat about networking and how to keep your business moving as best you can during the coronavirus outbreak today. Networking during a pandemic
in 1918 the Spanish flu swept through and disrupted everything. Now it’s 2020 and it’s COVID 19 but we have things that they didn’t a hundred years ago, podcasts for one thing, and in 2020 we have advanced tools to help medical professionals deal with the outbreak, and we have instant communications with almost anyone on the planet. So we generally know what’s going on much faster and much better than they did a hundred years ago. We can talk with each other in many ways on many platforms and that’s wonderful and helpful and it could also be a problem. So we’ll talk a little bit about that. In this episode. I want to give some suggestions and provide some guidelines for the situation we find ourselves in. Now, I’m recording this on March 15th, 2020 the ides of March, which seems fitting somehow things are changing as they did in Rome all those years ago they had Caesar to deal with.
You have Cove at 19 I will continue to monitor what’s happening and may issue some updates and future episodes to share other information as the situation changes, but for right now here are some of my thoughts from the past few weeks. To start off with, I highly suggest you identify some sources that you can trust her accurate information on the outbreak. I’ll share some of the ones that I use in the show notes at adventuresandnetworking.net and you can check those out and follow those links. The center for disease control, the world health organization has good information. The state health departments for your particular state and always listen to your local health and public safety officials. Those are all great resources. They all have vetted scientifically sound data and guidelines to follow. Now, it may be a little confusing at times as things change and as information gets distributed, but you can get good information to base decisions on from those sources.
Follow their advice and guidelines. Bob’s and conspiracy theory blog or Margie’s made up medicine website, maybe your favorites and you may love them and they may even mean well, but they’re not epidemiologists and they’re not going to have the latest scientific and medical information on the virus and the spread of COVID-19 so please use common sense and double check anything you hear against the information at the organizations like the ones that I’ve shared. There will be a lot of interruptions and canceled events and meetings. It’s already happening all over the place. I’m in Virginia. Schools have been shut down here. Lots of business organizations and other places are canceling events and canceling meetings. Now there are some activities that are going to continue because of that. Today, I want to talk about two specific things. First, how to handle the meetings and the small events that are not being canceled and that may include your referral group meeting depending on your local chamber policies and your independent networking group decisions about how you’re going to proceed.
Second thing I want to talk about is some ways to keep in touch with your network when you’re not meeting people face to face. So here we go. Topic one, safer networking. I highly recommend that you take a couple minutes at least to prepare yourself mentally. Things are going to be a little strange for a while. We’re not sure exactly how long this is going to go on and so things are going to be out of the norm for a period of time. We don’t know exactly how long, so it’s prudent to be aware and prudent to be prepared for it to go a little bit longer. It’s also appropriate to be concerned, worried, scared, whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s totally normal. That’s okay. It’s alright to feel those things. This is how human beings protect ourselves. Our brains actually do this automatically. Our brains identify threats and react.
That’s part of what your brain does. That’s what stress is. That’s what anxiety is. That’s where it comes from. Physiologically, it’s your brain’s threat response system and this is a real threat. That being said, it does not mean you have to give into panic. So far, the nature of COVID 19 doesn’t make it life threatening to everyone, but we do want to exercise caution and common sense. I don’t want you to contract the disease and maybe more importantly, I don’t want for you to spread it to somebody else because that other person maybe more vulnerable than you are, so be responsible. We all need to look out for each other right now, so let’s do that for your own mental and emotional health. I recommend you practice some deep breathing exercises to center yourself probably regularly. I’m been doing it every day and it’s been helping. It will help your brain function the way it’s supposed to instead of you, you know, getting spun off into unnecessary panic. Here’s a very simple technique. Breathe in through your nose for three to five seconds. Hold it for three to five seconds, then let it out slowly through your mouth for three to five seconds
and then hold for three to five seconds and then repeat as often as necessary. The Navy seals called this breathing into the box and it works wonders. I use it whenever and wherever I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed. You can do the same. It will help you feel more calm and make it easier to think. Now, some planning before you go anywhere to an event or a meeting, take stock of what your goals are as a business or as a professional. What is critical for your business so that you can continue to be as productive as possible? Who do you need to maintain contact with and why do you need to maintain contact with them? It’s very easy to think we need to maintain contact with everybody because, and the reality is that’s not always true. What is core to keep your work moving forward? What do you need to communicate with people?
Identify that. Jot it down. Write it on a pad of paper. Put it in your phone, write it on your whiteboard, whatever. Prioritize your customers first. What do you need to do to continue to coordinate with them? What do they need to know about what you are doing and what do you need to know about what they are doing? Then take a look at some prospects that you may have, you, people you’ve been talking to who may be pretty far down that sales process already. You’re probably gonna want to touch base with them directly to see what their situation is. Likely. Things are going to be fluid and change over the next few months. There are likely to be delays in process. That means they may not buy something when you thought they were. That’s normal and you don’t want to go into a panic situation where you haven’t thought about it or planned about it.
The more you know and the sooner you know it, the better decisions you can make and the better plan you can come up with to figure out how to get through this with a minimum of disruption. You need to know what’s going on so that you can manage your pipeline effectively. And if you’re a small business owner, your cashflow is going to be important so that information is going to help you respond and make decisions that will be helpful from a networking standpoint. Make a list of all the meetings and events that you normally attend right down which are canceled and which may still be happening and if you’re not sure, ask. Ask the people who normally do the meetings or other people who are going to the meetings if they know what’s going on, of the meetings that are still happening, identify the ones that are most important or critical for you to attend.
How important is it that you actually go to the meeting? If you don’t really need to be there, then maybe you can miss a meeting or to ask if they have an option for you to call in or participate remotely by video or phone. They may have that option now. They may not have that option. Some of the meetings we’ve been doing, we didn’t really have that option and so we weren’t able to offer that and some of those meetings we have just flat out canceled of the meetings. Who are that are happening, who’s likely to be there? Is it really worth the risk of attending the meeting? Now when I say risk, it’s not that something is going to happen. If you go, it may very well be worth going to that meeting to see those people and to have that interaction. Use your own common sense again, if you don’t need to be there, maybe you can skip it and if you are going, are there any new guidelines or procedures for that meeting or that event?
Find out from the host or the organizer if there’s anything you need to know about before you get there. If you are not going to attend and your registered or signed up and they are going forward, if you are not going to attend, please notify the organizer so that they know how to plan. I say this as a meeting organizer myself. I know how useful it is. If I know that somebody is not going to come, there’s no reason to go through all the logistics and show up and have this [inaudible] and all that stuff. If we already know that only one or two people are going to come, so please communicate well with your meeting hosts. They will really appreciate it and that helps your reputation too. By the way, even if you aren’t coming, we know why you’re not coming. We are figuring out what to do like everyone else is figuring out what to do so more communication is better so we thank you for that.
How thank you for that in their on their behalf. Before you go do a quick self check, how do you feel health wise? If you have a fever or you have a cough, stay at home, do not go out, do not go to the meeting. If you have a health condition that puts you at higher risk, check with your doctor before going out or going to events. Follow their advice. You may want to stay home for a while. That’s appropriate. I remember there are two risks that are going on right now. One is that you may contract the virus from someone else. The second is that you may unwittingly spread the virus to someone else and maybe that person is more vulnerable than you are to getting sick and having a serious case and you don’t want that on your conscience. I also would recommend that if you appear sick, even if it’s not COVID 19 and you know it’s not COVID 19 you have a cold, you have allergies, you have a regular run of the mill flu, you might want to consider staying at home.
There’s a very practical reason why I’m saying that if you do have a cold or if other flu, why spread that to everybody else? So there’s that. If you show up, you may cause other people to be concerned, worried, or even spread some panic. Even though you don’t mean to. Chances are if you show up and you’re sniffling and you’re coughing and you don’t look well, people are not gonna wanna interact with you anyway and have a conversation. Maybe do everybody a favor and skip that meeting. Stay home, recover, feel better, respect everyone by being honest with yourself in evaluating your own condition and then behave responsibly according to that. Now when you are going to the event, everything’s fine, you’re fine. You’re going to go to the event. When you get to the event, keep in mind the groups are going to be smaller and people are going to probably be practicing social distancing, so they’re all going to be more spread out.
It’s going to be strange. It’s gonna be weird. Having a conversation from three to six feet away is very odd. That’s okay. Everybody’s in the same boat. It’s perfectly okay to joke about it. Laugh about it, mention how strange it is because we’re all thinking in any way we can share in that. When you meet people, no handshaking and frankly no fist bumping, elbow bumping, foot bumping, whatever. Really. You don’t have to touch each other to say hello. Be as intimate as you can with your expression. Look them in the eyes and smile. Genuinely give them your full attention for three seconds. You might be surprised what that focused attention can convey and what you’ll get back in return from that other person non-verbally and maybe verbally keep an appropriate distance when you are there. Three feet minimum right now is the social distancing requirement.
Some of the guidelines I’ve seen say six feet from people who appear ill, but frankly if they’re ill, they shouldn’t be there, so somewhere between three and six feet between people depending on what the meaning and the event is. Along with that, if at any point you’re at an event and you feel unsafe, you’re not clear, feel free to go home. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in that. Go ahead and go while you’re there. Do not exchange cards or flyers or brochures or anything. You don’t need to be passing things back and forth physically to each other, at least for the time being. You can text each other or email message things back and forth to people that you meet. Now that does mean that you’ll have to ask them for their contact information and listen to the contact information they give you as you put it into your phone and if you’re like me, you’re somewhat memory challenged.
That can be tricky. I also have big fat thumbs and sometimes I have trouble typing email addresses into my phone and I can’t do the old trick, which is it as write something on the back of the card and drop their card into my pocket and look at it later. Sorry, my bad memory loves to do that, but I’m not going to be able to do that for awhile. On the flip side of that, here’s a positive. This actually may make you more present and help you pay more attention and more close attention to the people that you are interacting with. It certainly it’s distracting, but it may pay off. We actually may end up having better conversations and better interactions and more genuine interactions with each other. I’m certainly hoping so, and then as always, wash your hands, soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
Now, that may mean that you have to wait at the sink and let it run for a while before you get warm water. I run into this a bunch in the last few weeks. Sometimes here’s a pro tip. I’ll go into the restroom, especially if it’s a a one holer so to speak. I will turn on the hot water on the sink and then use the restroom and then come over to the sink and by then maybe the water’s warm. Wait for the water to get warm. You may want to wash your hands when you get to the event. That’s a good thing to do cause you’ve been out potentially touching things to get to the event. Then you may want to do it before you leave because you’ve been touching things while you’re there and then when you get home or back to the office, you’ve been touching doors, elevator buttons, parking meters or garage payment machines.
Who knows? You may want to wash your hands. Again, be cautious, so follow some simple precautions and you’ll minimize not only your risk of being infected, but also of spreading the virus to other people. All right. Topic two virtual networking, so there are lots of ways that you can keep in touch with people. While we are not spending so much face to face time, one of my favorites is LinkedIn. It can be a big help in monitoring what people are up to professionally and to help you keep in touch with them. Now the general guidelines I’m about to share are also true for most of the other major social media platforms, so substitute as needed, but my experiences from a professional networking perspective, LinkedIn is very well set up for this. First off, it’s a good time to spend a little time and effort working on your LinkedIn profile page to make sure that you’re sharing good information.
Is everything accurate? Is everything up to date? Is there any information about how to reach you right now that you need to make sure is on there? Things like that. You can also set up and work on a LinkedIn company page to make sure people know about what your company is up to. Now, you may already have a company website, but this is another place to be able to share information that might get more traffic. In other words, people may see it or see you on LinkedIn even if they’re not used to coming to your website. Now, if you’re a very small company or a solopreneur, that can also be a great way and to have a place to send people to find out about what you do and how you do it beyond your personal background and your personal posts and speaking of posts, now’s a good time to get in the habit of doing more posts, post updates of what you’re doing, especially posts about how to do business with you right now and how to contact you while we are all working through this outbreak.
Share information about any contact, any events, any new news, whatever it is that you need people to know about how to continue doing business with you. This is a great way to keep you top of mind and help them understand that you a are aware of what’s going on. Be that you care about them and your employees and that you are still here doing business and that you have some information about how they can continue working with you. This can be extremely important for our local small businesses. This is the people I work with all the time. I highly recommend and ask that you support your local businesses through all of this. Be smart, be safe, but remember, especially our retail businesses and service businesses, they depend on us. They cannot last very long. If we all don’t come in to their shops or get our haircut or go grocery shopping, so be smart, but please work with them, contact them and ask them how you can do that.
There’s lots of ways you also on LinkedIn can read updates of what other people are up to, like you’re sharing. They’re also sharing. See what’s going on with them, interact with them. You can leave comments to post, remind them that you’re there. Keep some conversations going, especially those conversations that were in the keeping in touch stage. That’s a great, LinkedIn’s a great tool for that anyway, but now it’s an even better tool because you’re probably not going to re meet them at an event as often as you normally would. This is a great way to help augment that. You also may want to consider starting a discussion group around a particular topic or around a geographic location. So say your town, your County, your area, LinkedIn groups are pretty easy to set up. Might want to set one up, invite some people to join, see what happens, do a little experimenting, see if there’s a role for that and see if people respond.
Worst cases they don’t and you learned something. You can also message people directly, especially people who you normally would see in person but you don’t have their phone number or their direct email. So this is a nice alternative way to stay in touch with people. So it’s nice for people who are still in that keep in touch stage or even for people who are in the early followup stage where you’ve just really started to follow up with them. A message, a direct message can be really nice in to kind of reach out to them. I’ve been doing that more in the last couple of weeks to keep in touch with people who I need to have some specific conversations with or who I am about to move into, say follow up with them. You also, because of that, we’ll want to be checking your own direct message inbox more often.
Now, that may mean if you’re like me, you may have to sift through some what I call DM spam, which is people who connect or who people who are sending you on platform messages that are, shall we say, cold call related, but that’s not a bad thing to do anyway. It’s not bad to get in there and keep that inbox clean and fresh. If you do have people’s direct email or their phone, you may use online direct messaging an as an augmentation to that or instead of that so that you’re not flooding their inbox or their voicemail. So DMS can be really nice in that regard because if it’s something that’s not critical or not really urgent, it’s a way for you to continue following up or continue to keep in touch that isn’t going to cause them more adjunct on a regular basis. They’ll get to it when they go to check their DM inbox, and again, all of the major social media platforms have some version of this.
I tend to like LinkedIn for this because it’s more professionally oriented, but all of the electronic tools, the virtual tools are very, very similar. Now for individual people. If you were setting up meetings or if you were going to do, say a one on one meeting with somebody in your group, you can always use the video chat applications like Skype or FaceTime or zoom or there’s several others and that’s a nice, I call it virtual face to face. The advantage to doing virtual face to face is that you can share all of the nonverbal interactions that you would have if you were sitting across the table from them, but you can be in totally different places. Now there are some technological things to do there. You have to get the application, you have to install it, it has to run, you have to have a camera.
You also have to have enough internet bandwidth to be able to support the call and that can sometimes get a little dicey, but for the most part, those work pretty seamlessly. Now they’re far better technologies than they have ever been and they’re far easier to use. Those companies also know that people are going to be depending on them more now, so I’m looking to hopefully see some proactive stuff from them now. As always, sending emails can be a good way to stay connected with people. I would suggest being mindful of how many emails we already get and I would recommend not overdoing it. If at all possible people are already opted in to your email list, then that might be a great way to communicate with them as a group. Please as always, do not add people to your list without their permission. Even in this situation, first off, it’s not appropriate.
They didn’t say you could. In some cases it’s not legal and in all cases if you do that, it’s often annoying so you don’t want to take that reputational hit. You could send a one on one individual email and in that individual email you might invite somebody to opt into your general list where you’re going to be sharing out information with everybody. That’s perfectly fine. Then they get to make the decision. One-on-one emails are great. If you already have an email interaction going on with somebody, that’s fine. I would say if you’re going to send things out to your list during the outbreak, the rules that apply all the rest of the time still apply. Keep it relevant, don’t overwhelm people and send too much stuff that they don’t care about especially and respect their inbox. Now we’re all going to get more emails right now, so exercise some patients, it may take a little bit longer for people to sift through and respond to all the communications that we’re getting.
It’s a little bit of an odd time. We’re also getting extra notifications and all of that individually. You can also use text or other chat apps to keep in touch with people as appropriate. Again, be considerate, don’t overwhelm people. That kind of goes into the category of telephone call, which you can also do. Lots of people want to call and check in on people. One of the suggestions I have is if you call and leave a voicemail for somebody and you’re just checking in on them or you’re just touching base, let them know that in the message. Let them know that you are not expecting an action back, but that you’re just thinking about them. If you are wanting them to take an action in response to your message, be clear and concise what that is and help them to prioritize calling you back or not calling you back based on the situation.
Now, that’s something that honestly I’ve noticed people have a hard time with just in general, not when there’s an extra layer of communication and issue going on. Just use extra caution in that and and be aware that if people don’t know why you’re calling, they’re probably not going to call you back, so be clear and let them know and if you don’t need a response back then let them know you don’t need a response back. They’re going to very much appreciate that. Now along the lines of the technology and communications, if you would like some additional information about virtual communications and how to use it either from a technical or an operational standpoint, please let me know. I may be doing an episode on that soon. In light of everything that’s going on and since I used to work in communications and have a video technology background, I used to teach video conferencing technologies to engineers and a lot of my sales career was working with clients to evaluate, specify and deploy video technology like streaming and video conferencing.
So it is something that I happen to know a little bit about if it would be helpful. I’m happy to put some information together and talk about some of that. Just let me know what your questions are about it and what you think would be helpful and do that at the website and a comment or leave a recording and send me a message and I’ll look at putting an episode together on that topic. Now that’s a little more technology based than I normally would do in this podcast, but given the circumstances were a little bit out of the norm anyway, so I’m totally happy to do that and that’s totally appropriate. There you go. Some of my thoughts from the last couple of weeks about networking during a pandemic and I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to leave comments on the website, adventures and networking.net and let me know your experiences and what you’re doing to manage during this strange time.
I really look forward to hearing how it’s going for you and while you’re at home looking for things to do, think about leaving a review for the podcast if it’s been helpful to you. I always appreciate that and feel free to share the episode with your friends and colleagues if you think it would be helpful for them as well. And finally, while we’re being careful, let’s be careful not to overreact. Try and keep your perspective and some sense of humor. It’s healthy to cry and it’s healthy to laugh. And this is also part of life being an adventure. Adventures are not predictable. And often there are these unexpected or even unwanted twists in our story. Well, this is one of those. We’re in this together and together we’ll make it through. So keep your wits about you. Take some deep breaths, try not to panic, but please be cautious and safe. A little temporary social disruption won’t really be all that bad, and it can save lives, truly save lives. So take a moment and appreciate the things you have and the ones you love. Make that extra call to say you care. After all, life is an adventure. So keep exploring and wash your hands.