In this digital world, it's very easy to connect with people. Whether it's via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, we feel like we're networking with hundreds if not thousands of people in an instant. We can have discussions about any topic we choose via online forums and chat rooms. We can tell the world what we're about through our blogs and videos. But who are we actually connecting with? Are we building solid foundations for real relationships? Or are we just shouting in an empty room?
It used to be (back in the olden days!) that if we wanted to connect with people, we had to have real conversations, be in the same room, look them in the eye, physically interact! We'd ask questions, and we learned things about them. What they wanted or needed, what they had to offer, how we could help each other. Nowadays, it's all too easy to just ping a post out into the ether and feel like we've made a "connection". But in actual fact, that "like" or "follow" doesn't really amount to a thing if there's no relationship being built in the process.
So, is face-to-face networking a dying art or will it survive in this new digital landscape?
As someone who spent the last 20+ years working in admin support roles, mostly with other people and often in open-plan offices, I'd always enjoyed daily human interaction as part of my work life. Since quitting my job and starting my own business, one thing I miss the most is that personal, face-to-face contact. Don't get me wrong, the ability to be able to work uninterrupted for hours at a time can be invaluable. But when that isolation becomes the norm, it can be difficult to re-integrate into the real world.
I have always preferred to communicate with people face-to-face. You get a lot from looking people in the eye, reading their faces, their body language. You can tell if you have their undivided attention (and you can give them yours). And, perhaps more importantly, you are unlikely to be misinterpreted like you can in a text, email or social media post. Meeting people face-to-face gives you the opportunity to instantly start to lay the foundations for a longer-term relationship (providing that first impression is a good one, of course!).
I realised fairly quickly (as did my husband) that I was becoming too attached to my desk. Other than occasional face-to-face meetings with clients, I was spending all of my working hours sat in front of my computer screen. So I decided to look for opportunities to get out and start networking again. Strangely, I found myself quite daunted by the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers. All of the time spent alone, at my desk, had dampened my confidence.
Why is face-to-face "networking" so important?
Having mused on my own situation, I started thinking about just how important getting out there and networking really is. I initially split these into "Business" and "personal" reasons but, as I started to write them down, I realised they're actually pretty relevant to both. Networking, in simple terms, is about mixing with other human beings. That's it. It doesn't matter whether it's business networking or socialising in everyday life, human interaction and feeling part of a group is important.
So here are my "Reasons to Network" Top 10:
- Get reconnected. Loneliness, isolation, disconnectedness, is becoming an increasingly disturbing problem in our digital age. As more people work from home, and our kids are using the online world to communicate, it's a problem affecting both the older and the younger generations. Our ageing population is becoming more isolated, whilst a significant number of people under 25 claim they don't feel connected to the world around them
- Good for our health. Being on our own too much can be bad for our health. While there are people who live their lives entirely on their own, they are the minority. Research shows that people who are isolated and lonely are at greater risk of dying young!
- It builds our self-confidence. Getting out there and connecting with new people can give our self-confidence a huge boost. For new business people, entrepreneurs, transitioning into the world of self-employment, networking can be a daunting prospect. It's easier to hide behind the spare bedroom door and the laptop screen but the longer it goes on, the harder it gets to enter that room full of strangers. Trust me, take the leap now!
- It's more open and transparent. Even with Skype, Facetime, Zoom etc, there's still a barrier between you and them. Face-to-face, in person, makes for a more open interaction
- Give (and get) the RIGHT message. If you've ever been on the receiving end of someone's angry misinterpretation of an email you sent, you'll know exactly what I mean by this! Face-to-face guarantees clarity and prevents unpleasant misunderstandings
- It makes you focus. As I mentioned previously, it's too easy to multi-task when you're not in the same room as someone - and this means you're not focussed on them and you're likely to a) miss something important or b) p*** them off!
- Take time. Sometimes speed is good, when you want to achieve a lot in a limited amount of time. But you can't get to know someone in a split second. Sit down, make time. It'll be worth it
- You have to LISTEN. You can't do that with an email or a social media post
- It's emotional. There is an emotional element to communication, and this can be contagious in a room full of people! Think about a time when you were with someone who was genuinely having a good time. Did you feel good too, just by being with them? It's much harder to experience that virtually
- You make people feel special. People are individuals, with different needs, personalities, expectations. Blanket correspondence can't address that. Be interested. Get personal (in the nicest possible way), and make people feel important for who they are, not for what you can get out of them
So whether you're connecting for business, or for pleasure, just make sure you're getting out there and mixing with real people. Whoever you want to meet - whether it's like-minded local business people or other working mums; people in your niche industry or groups that share your hobbies - face-to-face interaction will always give you more benefit, for the long-term.
Networking (or being in the company of other people) is essential for your business success AND for your overall health and wellbeing. Don't sit at home waiting for the customers to come. Don't stay locked away wondering what your 762 Facebook "friends" are up to. Get out there and mingle. You never know who you might meet, what advice they can offer, what help you can give them, and where those relationships could end up in the future.
In this impersonal, online, digital world, remember...there's a whole planet full of people out there just waiting to meet you. Go on, get out there. Get up close. Get face-to-face.
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Thanks for reading. Debbie, Digital Life...unlimited