During the final day of the Women & Worth Summit: Actions Speak Louder than Words, we brought together a panel to discuss the practicalities of virtual networking.
In the first minutes of the session, we learned that over the past year, Susan McPherson walked from New York City to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in equivalent steps around her neighborhood. Kathleen Entwistle switched jobs, making the move from UBS to Morgan Stanley. Ashley Hunter has been keeping up with TikTok, singing around the house and starting a new business based in Bermuda. And while we waited for moderator Jane Hanson to join, the audience helped Susan decide whether or not to keep her scarf on.
The effervescent greetings and introductions set the stage for the topic at hand—networking in the new normal. Such authenticity, warmth and honest engagement are essential to cultivating meaningful relationships in this virtual world. These women were clearly naturals. Below, you’ll find their concrete advice on how to build and strengthen connections in the era of Zoom.
- Susan McPherson, founder and CEO at McPherson Strategies and Author of The Lost Art of Connecting
- Kathleen Entwistle, private wealth advisor at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management
- Ashley M. Hunter, CEO of HM Risk Group
- Moderated by Jane Hanson, Emmy Award-winning television journalist and coach
(Editor’s Note: In the spirit of the conversation, the author will be using first names when referring to these distinguished speakers.)
1. Start With a Virtual Handshake
During virtual meetings, it’s good to begin with organic small talk. Starting with a personal note about everyone—for example, did you know Ashley is a concert violinist?—will help reveal connections and common interests.
Susan suggested opening meetings by asking a quick, fun question of the group. “It’s going to elicit something specific about the person. So, it could be what was your favorite food as a child? Or where on earth do you want to be when this pandemic is done? Those sorts of things get people excited to connect.”
Kathleen likes to think of making connections between people as a puzzle. You have to start by getting to know people. “I’m really truly interested in [someone] as a human being and what makes [them] tick…That’s where I find the common ground. Because we all have commonality somewhere.”
2. Replicate Accidental Conversations
All agreed that they miss the serendipitous encounters that can only happen in person. Now, more than ever, it’s important to put yourself out there, strike up conversations and ask for introductions. “Years ago, somebody said to me, if your knees aren’t shaking, you’re not asking the right questions,” said Kathleen. She encouraged people to reach out, ask others what they’re working on and actively look for opportunities to make new contacts.
Ashley recalled an article by 1-800-Flowers founder Jim McCann about keeping a relationship calendar. It’s easy to lose track of time, so making a point of scheduling outreach can help maintain connections. “I think this is a time to go through our old proverbial Rolodexes and actually reach out to three people every day,” said Susan. Jane recommended the same. “I like to do one on LinkedIn, one, perhaps through a text or a phone message, and the third through an email, just checking in.”
You can also leverage tech to help replicate watercooler talk. Susan’s team has been enjoying the Donut app on Slack
3. Hit the Reset Button
Zoom fatigue is real and it’s important to be intentional with your energy. Kathleen reminded the audience to take care of the basics: “It’s getting enough rest, drinking enough water, going for walks outside, getting enough fresh air, exercise and sleep.” If you do that, she said, “you’ll be better able to really be present, really contribute and participate and learn from the experience” when you’re online.
Ashley and Susan are advocates for the old-fashioned phone call. “I sometimes like just the walk and talks,” said Ashley. “You know, like Steve Jobs. I’m going to hold an hour-long conversation…walking and talking helps you generate ideas.” Multi-tasking is OK. In the chat, one audience member revealed that she was grocery shopping while listening to the conversation, “fully present and enjoying every minute.” Another chimed in from atop a ladder while painting.
4. Be Yourself and Connect Deeply
Ashley, originally from the South, said authenticity is everything. “I usually just call everybody ‘honey’ and ‘child’…I feel like that that is a nice way to defuse. Because you’ve never met anyone in person, right? You’re connected, but not really connected. And so, I think the easiest way for me to connect to someone is to be my actual true, authentic self.”
“Business, for the most part, has become more compassionate in this last year, more empathetic, and allowed people to be more vulnerable,” said Susan. Kathleen echoed the sentiment. “At this point, it’s almost like we’re just laying it all out there now because it’s OK, it’s accepted.” After one particularly challenging day, Kathleen posted a vulnerable message to Instagram and was heartened by the overwhelming positive response she received. “It was amazing. And that’s the circle we have of women, supportive, amazing women.”
Susan closed by sharing three key pillars from her forthcoming book, The Lost Art of Connecting: Gather, Ask, Do. “Gather is where you actually do deep soul searching to find out what it is that you want to surround yourself with. The second is the Ask, and it’s all about the art of the ask, so that you can find out what is important to someone else. What are they struggling with? And lastly the Do, which I think all of us are championing, is that when somebody needs something, we help them get it done.”
And the most important take away of the conversation? Practice kindness. “You don’t know where the other person has been, or where they’re coming from,” said Kathleen. “And if you can just give a smile, or be kind, or offer support, that really can change someone’s life—truly.”