A panel of young professionals addressed members at Illinois REALTORS® 2021 Fall Business Meetings in Naperville, Oct. 11-14 and shared their tips for successful networking. The panel also discussed their non-traditional strategies for continuing to connect to other professionals during the pandemic shutdown.

REALTORS® Advisory Board member Heather Haase, Past Women’s Council of REALTORS® West Suburban President Sheena Baker, 2022 REALTOR® Association of the Fox Valley President Miguel Ángel Fernández and MRED Broker Outreach Manager Margaret Hicks talked with YPN Chair Megan Beechen and Vice Chair Connie Vavra about their personal experiences and their techniques for starting meaningful conversations.

In this podcast, YPN staff liaisons Kim House and Kelli Jessup caught up with a few of the panel members to get more insights and advice.

Full transcript:

Kelli Jessup: Hello, and welcome to the IR podcast, keeping you up to date with all the latest news in the REALTOR® world. Welcome everyone, I’m Kelli. And on today’s episode, we’re sitting down with the Illinois REALTORS®, young professional network to talk best practices and tips on networking and how the pandemic has changed the way we connect. But, before we get started, I do want to welcome our special guest hosts that I have here today with me, Kim House and Megan Beechen. Welcome.

Megan Beechen: Thank you.

Kim House: Thanks Kelli. So happy to be here.

Kelli Jessup: Yes. So, Kim and I serve as a staff liaison to our Illinois Young Professionals Network. And Megan Beechen is our 2021 Illinois YPN Chair and a REALTOR® from Wilmont, Illinois, and a very active member of main street organization of REALTORS®. So Kim you’ve been serving as the YPN staff liaison for quite a few years now, longer than me. So why don’t you tell our listeners what YPN is?

Kim House: Of course, Absolutely. This is a group of Illinois REALTORS® who are young in the business, who all share that common goal of developing their career. While also networking with REALTORS® from across the state and even the country. Illinois, YPN is open to all REALTORS®.

Kelli Jessup: So, networking is a big component for REALTORS®. We have done this topic a few years back, but Megan, can you touch on why we decided to do this program again, which was an actual in person form that we held at our recent fall meetings?

Megan Beechen: Yeah, absolutely. Our committee started brainstorming topics, and what kept coming back to us was how important networking is. Especially after taking this year and a half or so off. So we’re all in this whole new world with the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that things have changed for most of us when it comes to our typical networking skills, but we can’t just stop networking, right? So we had to think about some ways to refine our skills with networking. So, we found some REALTORS® who have really adapted their ways of connecting to talk about how networking has changed during the pandemic and what methods of virtual networking, connecting on social media and some refreshers they use as we slowly get back into in-person networking. It can be tough to reengage after the last year, so that we’ve had, so from reading body language to gaging comfort levels, to prepping yourself, to walk into a networking event and trying your best to network during a virtual meeting, all of these things have become just to top of mind for us. And so we really wanted to focus on this topic.

Kelli Jessup: Who all did you sit down with to talk all the things networking at fall business meetings?

Megan Beechen: We had Heather Hoss who is from the National Association of REALTORS®, YPN advisory board, 2022 REALTOR® Association of the Fox Valley President Miguel Fernandez and Margaret Hicks, who is the broker outreach manager of MRED.

Kelli Jessup: All right, let’s jump right into hearing from them.

Kim House: Heather is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® YPN Advisory Board. She is visiting us all the way from Dayton, Ohio, where she is the training director and REALTOR® for her REALTORS®. She serves as Vice Chair for the Dayton REALTORS® Professional Development Committee and chair for the Ohio REALTORS® YPN. Heather, thank you for traveling all the way to Illinois and joining us today.

Heather Haase: Oh, My pleasure. I love this area, So it was my pleasure coming here.

Megan Beechen: Yeah, we are so excited to have you, so thank you so much. All right. Let’s just jump right into these questions. So Heather, what is your take on networking virtually? How do you do it? What are some tips and tricks for zoom networking?

Heather Haase: So, I was talking about this last night about networking with Zoom and stuff like that. I just try to make myself stand out. Like I don’t have my camera, on blank. I always have a fun background, usually sunflowers because if you meet me or if you see me on social media, I am full of smile, sunshine and dresses with pockets as I say. So, I have a field of sunflowers, or I have a rainbow or something like that. And it was really cool this year, Ohio REALTORS® had a great logo for their year and it was a rainbow logo. And so I had that back there a lot. I try to make myself stand out that way. Also, I always put my nickname in the chat, where it says my name there as well. That usually like catches people’s eye, like who’s sunshine? I want to talk to the person whose nickname is sunshine. So, that’s one of my things. I’m always commenting in the chat, trying to be as active as possible, asking questions. So I make myself kind of stand out. It is a little hard to network on zoom though. So I’m always like, Hey, add me on Instagram, add me on Facebook, add me on TikTok. I will warn you. I’m a little weird on TikTok. So, you’re going to get a whole different side of me if you’re on TikTok, but I’m still a really weird person there on Facebook and stuff too. Just be prepared for a lot of dad jokes and stuff. Then I just like network by commenting on people’s post and, just being genuine and trying to make connections and congratulate people and stuff like that, too. Networking on social media is really easy if you take out all the crud that social media puts out there.

Megan Beechen: Yeah, that’s so great. And just being genuine goes a long way. And I love that tip about having a nickname in your zoom because it’s very engaging right off the bat. It’s like, oh, well there’s a question right away. Why do you have this nickname? What’s your real name? You know, like that whole thing. So it starts a conversation.

Heather Haase: Yeah.

Megan Beechen: That’s great. What are some, have you had any networking fails? Any stories come to mind of networking that’s gone wrong?

Heather Haase: You know I saw this question last week and I was like, I don’t know, off the top of my head, if I’ve really had any networking fails. I’m sure I have unbeknownst to me. They probably like turn away and I’d be like, who the heck? I almost swore who the heck was that girl or whatnot, but you know, that’s okay because we’re not supposed to like connect with every single person we meet. Which is sometimes really hard to feel sometimes, but there’s just people you’re just not going to connect with, and that’s something you need to accept. I never think of it as a failure. It could be a learning opportunity and I know how cheesy and how “inspirational” that might sound, but it’s really true. Well what can I take from this opportunity?,

I can’t say I’ve ever had a fail. Now, I can definitely point out other people’s failures. So, Liv Thomas Brown, she had a really great thing. She once called spray and pray. Where people go with business cards and they’re like, here’s my business card, business card and spray it around the room and pray somebody will call them. And I love that term. And I use it now because there have definitely been people I have met who do this. I actually started my networking classes because of this one particular person I called Mr. Mustache, man, who does that. He had a very distinguished mustache, but he would come in. He would tell you why he was the best lender out there, what was great about him, not really like engage with you and then move on to the next person.

I think trying to be as genuine as possible when it comes to networking and trying to make those genuine connections. Because even if you only make three connections with people as a verse to 30 quick connections, you’re probably going to get more out of those three genuine connections than you will spraying and praying.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. Amen to that. I think we’ve all been in situations where we’ve seen people like that. Who are just, just there to hand out their cards really quickly and then just meet as many people as they can. So, great advice. How do you read body language to get a feel for if a conversation might be open or closed in joining something?

Heather Haase: Eye contact is super big. So I’m really big with eye contact. I’ve had meetings where people don’t look me in the face at all. And I try my best to get over it, because I know some people are really nervous but at the end of the day, subconsciously there is scientific proof, it just makes them feel untrustworthy or uninterested. So, eye contact is probably one of the big ones.

Smiling is also, one of the big ones as well. You don’t necessarily have to smile, but, just being aware that your face isn’t in total RBF mode or anything like that, I’m not going to say what that is out loud. You can Google it and then you can yell at me later. You could even see if the person’s not smiling, if their eyebrow is furrowed, just being really aware of these microaggressions they’re called in people’s faces.

Fidgeting is another big thing. I have ADHD. I make it very aware. If I’m in a very fidgety mood, which I am a lot, I will just say, Hey, I’m so sorry, I’m in a very fidgety mood or if my eyes are shifting a lot, because there’s a lot going on, I’ll say I am so sorry, you know how they say ADHD people see squirrels all the time, I’m in that mode right now. And most people are understanding. So if you break the ice, when it comes to stuff like that, I’m not embarrassed about my ADHD at all. I’m aware. I’m like, Hey, I’m sorry, I am paying attention to you. Sometimes I have to keep moving. Sometimes I have to look to the side, see what’s going on.

So, you know different things if people’s hands are in their pocket. Sometimes that means they’re nervous. If their arms are crossed, if their arms are crossing, their head is down, sometimes that means they’re listening a little bit more intently, but if like you’re paying attention, like sometimes it just means they’re closed off and they don’t want to talk to you. There’s these little different things, slouched shoulders, uninterested gaze, different things like that, you pick up on.

Megan Beechen: Yeah, Definitely. So last question for today, was there ever an event or an networking opportunity that you absolutely dreaded going to, but it ended up being a success story perhaps with a new client or something like that?

Heather Haase: Oh man. So, I usually tell a lot of people, I feel like when you say networking event, people’s stomachs drop. And they’re like ugh. And they think of these networking events, back in the 80s and 90s where it was spray and pray. Like speed networking almost. And which is probably the story I will probably tell, speed networking. Just have a goal of meeting one person, a few people. But, I did go to a speed networking event once it was literally designated speed networking. And I was dreading it because I’m not used to that, fast movement. And it was so fun. It was like speed dating, but for you were “dating” and I’m using air quotes to the people in the air, you were “dating” these random people from across the city and it was just a really, really interesting event. I’ve made a few connections. I’ve made some really good friends from these events so; you can always get something out of event.

Megan Beechen: Yeah, speed networking is great. And it’s kind of like spray and pray, but intentionally.

Heather Haase: Yes, more intentional. You got to get intentional with your elevator pitch at that point too. I will say, I do tell a lot of people and like when you say you’re a REALTOR®, you’re going to get one of two reactions. First is how the how’s the market. We all get that question. Funny enough, I was there at the event last night with other REALTORS® and their like “How’s the market?” in like Dayton. But the second one is that you’re probably going to get people that don’t want to talk to you because they had some bad experience with a REALTOR®. I always say like rethink your elevator pitch. A REALTOR® is so much more. So, what goes into, being a REALTOR® and stuff like that, like I could say I’m a matchmaker. I am a community advocate. I say all these different things, things that people will perk their head up and be like, wait, what do you do? Oh, I’m a REALTOR®. And they’re like, oh I didn’t, I didn’t realize REALTORS® did that. I’m like, yeah, I go city hall meetings, I do this, I advocate, and I am a matchmaker. I’m a matchmaker for the American dream.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. I love that. That’s great advice. Awesome. Well thank you so much, Heather, for joining us, it was really a pleasure having you and we appreciate your time and all your great advice and wish you the best.

Heather Haase: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Kim House: Miguel is an attorney and REALTOR® in Elgin, Illinois. He currently serves as the president of the REALTOR® Association of the Fox Valley. He has been a member of numerous committees with Illinois REALTORS® and his local association. As well as a member of the women’s council of REALTORS® and the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. He was a member of Illinois REALTORS® Leadership Development Program in 2020.

Megan Beechen: Awesome. Thank you so much, Miguel, for joining us today. We’re so happy to have you.

Miguel Fernandez: Thank you for having me.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. So let’s jump right into this. One of our questions we have for you is, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

Miguel Fernandez: I’m definitely an introvert.

Megan Beechen: Okay, Awesome. So how do you network as an introvert that might be different than somebody who is extroverted?

Miguel Fernandez: So, I had to force myself to go out and network because when I went out in business for myself, it was like either network or starve. And the first couple goes were rough because I would meet like one person, get a business card and then completely forget about it. When I joined the REALTORS®, I basically figured out what I do is I find the person that I know, who’s the best networker that I know. And then I follow them around the room until I find other people that I know and that usually works to meet other people. So, when I started, it was my AE Chris Studebaker, and then I latched on Neil Malone, wherever he was available. Cause he knows like everybody and just kind of do that.

Megan Beechen: That’s smart. Just find somebody to kind of hook onto and ride that wave. I love it. What are some tips that you have for gracefully exiting a conversation when it is time to move on to the next?

Miguel Fernandez: I am the worst person for exiting a conversation. So, I try to transition out to a next one with, the group kind of breaks off, but it’s usually like going to get a drink but sometimes I just kind of walk away cause the rest of the conversation is left without me.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. How have you changed your networking and how have you reengaged since COVID?

Miguel Fernandez: I just got back in person as much as possible as soon as that was a possibility. Because I don’t know about anybody else, but networking virtually doesn’t work for me. I did have one event where it was almost like speed dating where they broke you off in a little into a room and you had three questions to ask one person. That kind of works, but staring at a screen full of people didn’t work for me.

Megan Beechen: It’s very tough. So what do you do to prep yourself going into a networking event? Any tips, tricks for getting yourself geared up for that?

Miguel Fernandez: I try to think about it as little as possible, because the more I think about it, the more nervous I get and then the worst it’s going to be.

Megan Beechen: Spoken like a true introvert. I can definitely relate. Yeah. So just kind of pushing it out of your brain, not thinking about the fact that you’re going.

Miguel Fernandez: Just have it on the calendar and show up. Don’t even think, once you’re there, you’re there.

Megan Beechen: We were talking to Heather earlier about how just is the word networking can make people like no. Think of it like you’re going out with your friends.

Miguel Fernandez: Yep.

Megan Beechen: Or something else. So one last question, has there been an event or a networking opportunity that you absolutely dreaded going to, but it ended up being a success in the end?

Miguel Fernandez: So, at the beginning I dreaded going to every networking event ever. I went and I was invited to a board meeting with women’s council of REALTORS®. I was working with a REALTOR® who was going to be president elect of the women’s council of REALTORS®, Northwest chapter or network at this point. And by the end of the meeting, I was their marketing chair and, that’s sort of been the best way for me to network is to actually get involved and do stuff. Because if people see you follow through, then they want to work with you as opposed to just short one off conversations in a speed networking situation.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. Definitely getting involved is, is huge. Awesome.

Miguel Fernandez: All right.

Megan Beechen: Well, that’s all we have for you today and thank you so much for, for being with us.

Miguel Fernandez: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Kim House: Margaret is broker outreach manager from MRED she came to MRED by a love of architecture, buildings and teaching Margaret got her start in real estate, working in the legal department at Centrum properties in Chicago. Margaret then took her love of buildings and Chicago and ran her own tour business for 10 years. She uses her skills, engagement, education, and industry relations with MRED subscribers.

Megan Beechen: Welcome Margaret, thank you so much for joining us today.

Margaret Hicks: Thank You. I’m so glad to be here.

Megan Beechen: We are very excited to talk about networking with you. I’m going to ask you just a few questions about how you network, and what you found some good strategies are. So the first thing we wanted to ask you was what questions do you usually ask to go deeper or to make a more genuine connection with somebody when you’re networking?

Margaret Hicks: Sure. That’s such a good question. It’s so interesting. Definitely, I start out with the where do you work? What do you do? But I think to really get to the heart of somebody, you have to ask them what they do outside of work. And that’s when you can really start a hone in on what’s interesting to that person. And, that’s what’s going to open them up. I have a great story. My boss was introducing me to a real estate person and he said, this is Jim, and then he said, ask Jim about bees. And then my boss walked a way and I sat and talked to Jim about bees forever and his eyes lit up and his whole body opened up and it was just so neat. So I really think the questions that go a little bit deeper are the ones about outside of work.

Megan Beechen: I love that. That’s awesome. And you will remember him from that conversation.

Margaret Hicks: Forever.

Megan Beechen: Naturally.

Margaret Hicks: And the next time I see him again, boom bees. I know exactly what to do.

Megan Beechen: Aw, that’s awesome. I love that. How do you generally read body language to, to gauge comfort levels of those that you’re interacting with, especially in these days of COVID and not being sure exactly where comfort levels are?

Margaret Hicks: Sure and having such an expressive part of the body covered up a lot of times, it can definitely make reading body language a little bit harder.

Megan Beechen: Definitely.

Margaret Hicks: When you can’t see people’s face. So you really need to concentrate on their body. I’ve found, so are they moving away from you? Are they leaning away from you? Are they trying to get away with one leg sort of out the door or are they facing you, front? Eyes are the best; eye contact is everything. And that classic thing of you can always tell when someone’s smiling, even under the mask, right? The Duchenne smile where the eyes crinkle up at the end. Where you can tell someone’s honestly smiling. And I think just sort of a general, like when I was talking about the bees, right. You can feel when somebody’s body is starting to relax shoulders, go down, chest opens up a little bit, that they really are working on physically opening up to you. And I think another great strategy is to mirror that. Pay attention to what they’re doing and see if you can’t mirror that a little bit, which sort of subconsciously helps bring them into your world as well.

Megan Beechen: It makes them more comfortable with you and the conversation.

Margaret Hicks: Exactly.

Megan Beechen: I love that. Yeah. If this pandemic taught us one thing with networking, it’s how to kind of naturally read people in other ways, other than just smiling and their face.

Margaret Hicks: For sure. Even voice and how they’re closing out their sentences and that kind of thing. And I think another trick too is even recognizing people. I’m a little bit new to this business. So even recognizing people mask on and then recognizing them with them off, right. Is such a trick. And seeing people in person is different than seeing them on Zoom. So it really is. And I, I think what it all boils down to is we’re all going through it. We’re all doing this. We’re all awkward. We’re all strange. We’re trying to figure it out. And so if you can realize it’s not just you and try to make other people feel comfortable with the weird world we’re living in then that can go a long way.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. That’s great advice. I love that. So, Margaret, what’s your take on hybrid meetings and where do you feel virtual meetings work best and where do you feel that in person meetings work best or is there a balance of both or hybrid? What’s your take on that?

Margaret Hicks: I think hybrid is here to stay. I will always prefer in person, every time. So this is a bit of a battle, over what you prefer and what the reality is. And the truth is sometimes hybrid is perfect. You really can end up talking to people. You never would’ve talked to, if it was in person, you can get someone that you might not have gotten if they had to come to your office, if they had to come to you, if you had to go to them. So certainly it’s a benefit. I think the trick is keeping people engaged virtually. We are working hard on doing that at MRED, especially. I think the best way to do that is good tech. If you’ve got cameras on everybody, even the people in the room that can be really nice. Another thing that’s helped us a little bit is to have even the people that are in person on their own computers. So even if we’re all in a room together, you’re still on your own computer and it just makes it easier to include the people that are virtual because in a way we all are. I think there are some great ways of keeping people, virtually engaged, asking questions, raising hands, using the chat, using surveys, that kind of thing can really keep those people engaged in what’s going on. And in some ways, keep them more focused, then if you happen to be in person. So I think it’s here to stay. I’ll always prefer in person over virtual, but I think the benefits are really strong to keeping some meetings hybrid because then a lot of the people can come. Everyone, you need to come. Most likely they can come or that’s not necessarily true within person.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. And especially when we talk about at different comfort levels, if somebody’s more comfortable staying at home and you get them in a meeting and it’s virtual, then it definitely has some benefits. But I love what you said about being a computer right in front of your face because that really does include the virtual people much more than just one computer where we’re looking at them every five minutes or something.

Margaret Hicks: Well maybe they’re not feeling so left out that way.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. That’s great advice. So, one last question for you before we leave, was there an event or networking opportunity that you absolutely dreaded going to, but ended up being a success story, like something with a new client or anything like that?

Margaret Hicks: So there definitely was. I had a big event I needed to go to. I had a very specific person I needed to talk to and I did not want to go to this event. Snowing and disgusting out and Succession was on. So, I decided I was going to go in, meet the person and turn around and walk out, that was my plan.

I went in, met the person, turned around to leave and immediately saw a friend and that I haven’t seen in forever and ended up staying, sitting at her table, meeting a ton of the people that she works with and got a bunch of business just by staying. So I think even making a commitment, networking can be so scary. We built it up in our heads. I think maybe even just making a commitment of five seconds. Five minutes, I’m just going to go in and I’m going to leave. And the chances are, you’re going to get wrapped up in it somewhere. And it’s going to probably most likely turn out well for you. Better than if you just turned and ran. So that was a really good experience for me personally, that it’s not so bad once you get there.

Megan Beechen: That’s awesome, that actually made me think of, it’s kind of like going to the gym when just getting yourself there is, is all of the battle. And then once you’re there and after you’re done, you’re so happy that you went.

Margaret Hicks: You feel really good.

Megan Beechen: Right, exactly.

Margaret Hicks: Kind of the same, same idea. Right. I’m just going to go run for five minutes and then you end up for half an hour.

Megan Beechen: Yeah. Great. Well thank you so much. We really appreciate your time and it was great to meet you, and chat with you.

Margaret Hicks: Thanks for having me.

Kelli Jessup: Wow. That’s all some great information and tips to help us all freshen up our networking skills, Kim and Megan, thank you for joining us on the IR Podcast.

Kim House: Absolutely. As the YPN chair, I want to personally invite our Illinois REALTORS® to get involved with the Illinois, YPN and put these networking tips to use. There’s more than likely a YPN board with your local association. So be sure to reach out to them about joining and if not, there are definitely opportunities to start one up. So feel free to reach out to us. So you get that going.

Megan Beechen: Yes. In Illinois, YPN it’s open to all Illinois REALTORS®. It’s free to join. You can connect with us on Facebook at Illinois YPN, and you can find YPN online at staging.illinoisrealtors.org/ypn , and that’s it for the IR podcast. Thank you all for listening and as always give us a rating and review on your podcast app of choice.

Kelli Jessup: And if you want any more content, simply search for Illinois REALTORS® on your social media app of choice, we’ll see you next week.