Success while (virtual) networking

Every one is trying to change, pivot and adapt during this unprecedented time, our business culture is changing from how we operate to how we stay in touch and even how we are networking.

We all know how networking usually works. After work, we show up, slap on a name tag, grab a drink and try not to be a wallflower. We challenge ourselves to talk to people we don’t know. We walk away with a stack of paper business cards having given ours away in turn. There are many many blogs out there that give advice about how to effectively network in person with tips about how to approach someone and what to do with that stack when you get back to the office.

But what happens when you can’t meet in person?

A short disclaimer here, I am a graphic designer, maker and project manager. As a new small business owner I went to a lot of these events in person with success and I started thinking about how networking would work now. I have attended some virtual events over the past couple of weeks both great and not so great.

Here are some tips for hosting and attending that will help you navigate networking online:

How to be the host with the most: 

  1. Don’t invite 100 people. At a bar this is no problem but if you are hosting using a platform like zoom, only about 10-16 people fit on the screen equally. Too many digital voices can be overwhelming and people will get lost. 
  2. Think about a goal for your event. Are attendees looking to meet new people?  Do they just want to check in with regulars? Do they need to find help? By hosting you are taking on leadership for people to have a good time- just like in person.
  3. You *can* host multiple events in the same week. Everyone’s time is looking a little different these days and you can capture more people if you have different kinds of events during different times over different days. Virtual meetups have a very low setup time and can be repeated easily. We are also not limited to “after work” time anymore. Virtual meet ups can be at 2:00pm (while some folks kids are napping) or over the lunch hours or later at night (kids are in bed + wine anyone? 0 travel time = more flexibility. 
  4. Curate attendees so that there will be some great matches. A great host can look at the people who are signing up and see some synergies and potential fit. If your event goal is to bring people together who are looking for help, try and get a wide variety of service providers at your event. If 5/10 attendees are all graphic designers and people are looking for graphic design help it’s going to get awkward and competitive quickly. However, if your event is to try and bring creatives together for a check in and to talk shop- by all means- bring em all together.
  5. Book end the event with a thank you and some ground rules. Start and end your event with a short 20 second blurb.
You may also want to write your directions in the chat so if people come in late they can catch up (or have a slide with instructions visible)
  • Start by thanking people for coming, time at home is still time and our time is still valuable. 
  • Explain how the event will work. Is pitching ok? Or just introductions? Can I chime in whenever or should I wait for my turn to talk and post to the chat instead? Should people stay on mute until they have the floor? Can I link to my website/profile in chat? You may also want to write your directions in the chat so if people come in late they can catch up (or have a slide with instructions visible)
  • End on time with another thank you and explain any follow up action you are going to do. Ending on time may require some conversation corralling but it’s the right thing to do. People may need to hop on to the next call or switch off with their co-parent so staying to the time allotted is respectful-people will remember good calls vs not so good ones. 

6. Add value for attending. In addition to being in a curated group, give each person who is attending a 30 second slot to introduce themselves or pitch- depending on the goal. Can the host follow up with contact info from everyone attending? Or can people post contact info in the chat? If you have curated your attendees highlight some of the pairings you have in mind with a virtual introduction. If people need help, point out attendees who offer a service they might be looking for. 

Bonus: Avoid “zoom bombing”. Hackers have been trolling the internet looking for open zoom invites, swooping in and dominating the calls with rude and often explicit content. The only way to get rid of a ‘zoom bomber’ is to end the meeting. By requiring a sign up and only sharing the meeting link with registered attendees, you can prevent zoom bombings. PCWizrd has a great blog post about taking your zoom security to the next level. 

How to be a gold star attendee 

  1. Only register if you plan on attending and- show up if you register. Everyone understands that last minute things can draw you away but if you register you are taking up a (virtual) seat.
  2. Be on your best behavior. It’s hard not to notice if someone is picking their nose, if they aren’t on mute when someone else is speaking or if they keep interrupting when they don’t have the floor. A good host will outline the ground rules, it’s your job to be respectful of them. 
  3. Don’t pitch unless you have the floor and it’s allowed. We all are all navigating this time together and are feeling the strain of lost revenue. You want to put your best self forward and hard selling can be off-putting, especially out of turn. 
  4. You aren’t in this alone. While we may be used to having our own spaces at the office, at home we might have to share with our spouse, roommate or the sleeping baby next door. A pair of headphones can keep the noise (and the tension) down.
  5. A little levity (and patience) goes a long way. Try a zoom filter, dress to the nines, wear your super hero socks. If it’s an evening session, pour that glass of wine! Look the other way when you hear a dog bark, a baby cry or a toddler yell, we are all human and deserve some patience and compassion. 
  6. Give and take in equal measure. When it’s your turn, go ahead and introduce yourself and put your details in the chat. Focus on what you can offer the group, not just a straight pitch. Think about how you sound to the other people in the room and what they might need instead of what you can offer. You might not be able to offer your services directly but you may be able to offer an introduction that’s valuable to them. They won’t forget where they got it. 

Bonus: Stand out from the crowd by being on top of your tech. Make sure your LinkedIn is spotless. Make a slick email signature. Take your online persona to the next level with a virtual business card

Hope this was helpful! If you want to chat more about branding, marketing or want to just check in, I host a open office hour every Tuesday, it’s free and no registration is required. Tune into my social channels for more info!