For most conference goers, networking and the opportunity to meet interesting and potential allies - career-wise or as business partners - ranks high as a motivator for attending these events.
However, with most summits taking place virtually these days, many professionals are left confused about the best practices for networking at a virtual event.
While the elements of face-to-face interactions, handshakes, and or bumping into someone at the coffee line are removed in a virtual event, there are still great opportunities to network with others.
Meeting new people, whether online or offline, can be exciting and nerve-wrenching, especially if it is your first time attending these events.
We shared some of our best advice so that you can maximise your networking efforts at the next virtual event.
For us at Bright, the most important tip we have seen work again and again when it comes to making the most of our networking efforts are setting a clear goal early on.
When setting our virtual networking goals, we often ask ourselves these questions:
Who is the most important person (brand) we want to connect with? By identifying our ideal networking persona, we eliminate other options that may not help us achieve our over-arching goal for attending the event. And, it makes our networking efforts much more purposeful.
How do we find them? Thankfully, most virtual event organisers make the list of attendees available to everyone attending the conference. Days before the summit, we would go through the list to organise networking targets.
How many people can we realistically connect to in a meaningful way? While it may be tempting to want to talk to as many people as possible at the event, we often set a specific number. This way, we can focus entirely on having great conversations and not just going through the numbers.
Where possible, share these goals with your team as it helps make you accountable. Sharing the event goals with your team ensures everyone is on the same page when reviewing how you fared in achieving the set goals.
When asked, be sure to provide your full bio and contact information and professional photo so others can easily find you when they search the list of participants. This way, you position yourself and business to be networking targets for others.
The quickest way to stay visible during a virtual event is to actively engage and participate in the various activities lined up by the organisers.
One thoughtful question or comment you make can spark conversations with others, which could lead to future collaborations or convince them to sign up as clients.
Participating during breakout sessions and sharing your insights is also an effective way to demonstrate expertise and build authority.
However, take care not to appear spammy. The rule of thumb is to post one comment or a question per session. This way, other participants can contribute and or ask questions too.
Utilise the private messaging features on the event platform to engage with other attendees on the side.
Unlike in-person events where you are not allowed to have private conversations during presentations, virtual summits don’t have such restrictions.
You can actively engage in private conversations with other participants, even when a live session is on. To get started on this, you can ask your connections what they think about what the speaker said.
These side discussions can help build trust with the new contact and demonstrate you value their opinions.
Publicise your participation on social media and other platforms like your website and newsletter. When sharing on social media, be sure to use event-specific hashtags to reach more people interested in the event.
The idea is to engage with other people who are attending the same event and probably look out for each other during the conference proper.
Social media is also an effective channel to share your takeaways after the event has ended. You can tag your new connections and encourage them to share insights they gained during the summit too.
Above, we shared tips to help you prepare for networking before and during the virtual event.
In the next few paragraphs, you will learn how to maximise your efforts after the event.
At Bright, we believe networking doesn’t stop at the end of the event. We merely shift focus to nurturing and building deeper relationships with the new connections.
First, quickly capture the data of people you met virtually. Whether it’s their social media handles, virtual business cards, or contact numbers, you want to export them from the event platform to where you can access them anytime. It could either be to a business app or add them manually to a spreadsheet.
Secondly, go through the list to prioritise each contact based on the quality of conversation you had with them.
When done correctly, the connections should fall into these three groups: People you don’t have any obvious point of connection, but you’d like to keep within your radar. Those with whom you have a specific reason to follow up, and those you’d like to build a deeper relationship with.
Once you have sorted the new contacts into these groups, you can then follow up accordingly, giving each group the required attention.
Finally, follow up with your new connections. Ideally, you want to email them within 24 hours when the conversation you had with them is still fresh.
The rule of thumb for the first follow-up is to say something nice in the message. You could thank them for the conversation and insights they shared.
Or email them links to articles, whitepapers, or research that are relevant to the topic you discussed or related to the project you know they are working on.
Whether online or in-person, networking is about focusing on other people, being helpful, and sharing your knowledge freely with them.
While virtual events eliminate face-to-face interactions from the networking equation, thoughtful planning and a little effort can go a long way to ensure you network effectively virtually.