With millions of people losing their jobs and in-person events disappearing for over a year, COVID-19 has forever changed the way we make connections.
Like everything else in life, networking made the move to virtual in 2020, and we're only now returning to being in the same place. However, all those social and technological changes from the past year aren't vanishing overnight.
The future of networking in a post-pandemic world is still evolving, but it looks like a little of what we've always done mixed with a lot of new ideas. We turned to Sally Davis Berry, operator of TourismProAcademy.com, for her expert insight on how to make connections and rebuild your network going forward.
EMBRACE THE VIDEO CALL
Video calls were an absolute lifesaver for most organizations at a time when nobody could meet in-person for months on end. But after more than a full year of these virtual meetings, many people expressed being fatigued over all that screen time.
Now that many of us are getting back in the office, however, the fatigue is wearing off and we can have the best of both worlds: Meeting in-person when possible, and connecting virtually when useful!
"As someone who has provided tourism training via Zoom since 2019, I have seen many silver linings," Berry said of this shift. "One is that everyone knows how to use Zoom and feels comfortable interacting on the platform. That will make it easier for people to learn new skills, create new bonds and host virtual FAM tours going forward. That's a benefit to all of us in the group tour industry!"
VIRTUAL EVENTS ARE HERE TO STAY
We're all excited for the return of big conferences and festivals, but virtual events have been the glue of the industry over the past year.
"We've all felt disconnected from our tourism family in the last year," Berry said. "I've heard of many destinations that have hosted Zoom events such as trivia games and Beer Bingo just to keep their partners engaged and seeing each other."
These events have created networks that never would have existed had everything stayed in-person. Look for these conferences from professional organizations and trade groups, and use them to meet people all around the world, building unexpected connections.
Of all the networking platforms to emerge as relevant and effective, LinkedIn is on the top. Chances are, half the people in your network have moved on to a new company or role, making LinkedIn one of the best ways to track those career changes and stay connected, no matter what happens next.
"One strategy I often speak about when building your network is leveraging your LinkedIn profile," Berry said. "LinkedIn is free to use and can help you stay in touch and even build your network by connecting with new peers. Take the time now to update your photo, banner image and headline. Set a goal of spending time on the platform every week; commenting, sharing articles and growing your contacts by at least three a week. Many tour companies have business pages on LinkedIn—follow them and let them know you are open for business!"
Now is the perfect time to update your information and revamp your image. As others rebuild their networks, their eyes will eventually land on you. But it's not all about aesthetics—when networking, people want to know what you're looking for and what you have to offer. Be clear with both!
Thanks to a year of intense and constant change, many of us are more open to new ideas than ever before. Think about changing up your networking approach, whether that means sending handwritten letters to contacts, injecting some much-needed humor, or even reaching out to someone you admire. In a world of constant information, do something to stand out.
When it comes to meeting in-person, everyone's comfort level varies. Take time to figure out the social norms for whatever place you're traveling to or group you're meeting with.
"As we begin to meet again in person, things will be different," Berry said. "Those hugs we give out so freely to colleagues might be met with resistance now. Not everyone is vaccinated and we don't know what health issues others have or who they are trying to protect at home. This is the time to learn to read other's body language—a fist bump might be all that is offered. Respect others' wishes as we all navigate the new landscape."
Written by Josh Veal, Contributing Writer for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2021 issue of Groups Today.