Deep Dive: Virtual networking tips to help you stand out!Tuesday 17 November 2020
“I am a solo-preneur and an introverted one at that! I understand the power of networking in person but the thought of it is very daunting to me,” says personal branding photographer Rosie Parsons. “When the UK went into lockdown at the start of March, I knew in order for my business to survive I had to remain visible so I turned to virtual networking.
“I fast realised I felt more relaxed and was able to be more authentic when attending virtually. Although I could still be seen visibly via my computer camera, there was something more comforting about being in my own home office and networking behind a computer screen. Over recent months, I have branched out into trying lots of various virtual networking routes, from reaching out to people I wanted to do business on LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. What I have found is overall people are a lot more relaxed compared to my experience of networking in person, as there isn’t that sense of needing to rush to leave to catch a train for example. Don’t put any pressure on yourself other than to ’turn out’, after a few, set yourself a new task to leave the virtual networking event with 1 or 2 new contacts to follow up with after the session. Slowly you start to build your confidence and your circle of new connections.”
Before the event
Check your tech
“Do the usual tech checks before you go online,” says Faye Eldridge, founder of FYAMI, a business growth consultancy. She recommends asking yourself the following questions: “Do you have a strong internet connection? Are there any sound issues? Prepare all of this first. If you do have an issue when on a call, acknowledge it – if you’re in the middle of talking, apologise and try to fix and repeat what you have said. Check that those on the call have heard you if you think that you may have cut out.”
Alix Passey-Brown also suggests thinking about what’s behind you in the call: “Test out your background,” she says. “What does your environment as visible to the group ‘say’ about you?”
Check yourself out
“Remember to HALT before you join a virtual or real-life networking group – never go in Hungry, Angry, needing the Loo or Tired!” says Alix Passey-Brown from ourHRpeople. “People can still read discomfort, even virtually. And remember to smile – it helps you stand out from the crowd and shows you aren’t nervous.”
Get in the right mindset
Caroline Whaley from Shine, a leading diversity and inclusion consultancy, says reframe virtual networking as an opportunity, not a challenge.
“Don't be afraid to join virtual events,” she advises. “Remote networking can be just as easy as face-to-face and definitely shouldn't be seen as a barrier. People have left our remote sessions with clarity around their goals and aspirations and a plan to achieve them, the confidence and resilience to keep on track, and connection with like-minded individuals.”
During the event...
Get to know the attendees
“Don’t be too transactional too early,” advises John Lees, a career strategist and author of How to Get a Job You Love. “Log on a few minutes ahead and find out what’s going on in people’s lives outside work. You have to work harder to establish rapport if you’re not physically in a room, but the extra effort is vital to improve working and cooperation.”
Prepare your pitch
“Never presume anyone knows anything about your business or your profession. Don't use jargon, assume you need to explain what you do to ensure you’ll be understood by everyone,” advises Simon Glenn, co-founder of online virtual networking platform meeow. “ If you have a chance to speak to the room make sure you tell them who you are, your company name, a brief and simple explanation of how you help your customers/clients, tell a short story of how you've helped someone to give those listening a real-world example to remember and repeat your name and company name at the end.”
Simon also advises you not reading from a screen, so you appear more confident. “You can't communicate your personality when reading from a screen, plus speaking freely makes you look more in command. If you do need reminders, put them on post-it notes as close to your webcam as possible so if you do have to read anything you're still looking up and no one will notice.”
Charlie Lawson the national director of BNI – the UK’s largest SME business networking and referral organisation – says: be present. “It’s so easy to be distracted when networking online – your phone is next to you, your emails are just a tempting click away. Imagine the equivalent at an in-person event: interrupting the conversation by scrolling through your Facebook feed in full view of everyone!” Charlie explains. “If the aim of networking is to build productive relationships, then not paying attention, not listening, not being fully engaged in the conversation / meeting – it will never work.”
Be a facilitator, not a dominator!
“Bring in the quiet and the contentious ones - all views are valid, moderation is important - someone needs to own the session,” says Caroline Hayward, founder of the Chairman’s Network, an international business networking group – but she says be wary of giving too much time to one person. “Don’t let one individual dominate or be a bore- intercept and manage the situation.”
Conversation dominators don’t let others speak, think their opinions and take-aways must be discussed, and can talk over those who try to pitch in. A facilitator, however, leads the discussion through open questions and by directly asking people by name for their thoughts - especially those who haven’t spoken up yet.
“Read the room,” says Ashley Friedlein, CEO & founder of Guild, an independent messaging platform for professional groups, networks and communities. “Often we take direction on where to lead a conversation, how to adopt our tone, and how to respond to others from the verbal cues we take for granted. Something as simple as a raised eyebrow or an ominous pause can speak volumes about another person’s feelings, so when it comes to virtual networking, it’s important to exercise a little caution. Unless you’re interacting with people you know well, be wary of sharing controversial opinions or attempting humour as it can be difficult to predict how others will receive your tone.”
“Up the empathy,” says Andy Lopata, professional relationship strategist and author of Connected Leadership and Just Ask. “The person you are talking to might appear bright on camera but this has been a challenging year for many people. They may have recently lost a loved one, be worried about the health of a member of their family or face being furloughed or made redundant. You don't know what is going on in their lives, so try to connect human-to-human and make the space to find out how they actually are.”
This also encompasses another point: be mindful of other attendees. Some may be arriving in groups and know other people, some may be attending solo; some may be hard of hearing or visually impaired; some may be taking care of children at the same time. Having a little patience and kindness goes a long way here!
After the event...
“If you’re not the manager of the virtual networking event but have been invited as a guest, ask the host if you can be introduced to the other guests afterwards via email along with their LinkedIn contact details,” Faye says. “The event speaker may ask everyone on the call who would like to be connected. This helps to ensure that you all stay connected after the call.”
After exchanging names in break out rooms, Charlotte Nichols, founder of PR firm Harvey & Hugo says: “Connect on social media straight afterwards – while you’re fresh in people’s minds.” LinkedIn is a useful resource for this.
Luke Haslett, managing director of marketing firm Iakoe, says you should take it one step further than social media. “After following up, suggest that your contacts join a Slack group that you have created for like-minded individuals that will continually add value and topics of discussion that are of interest to them. Slack groups are free and a fantastic way to continually network with people over the long term as opposed to the relationship fizzling out.”
Reach out to the organisers and/or speakers to thank them for the event and for being included - this preserves that relationship and could lead to more invitations along the way. It’s nice to be nice - and nicer to leave a good impression!
You can put these tips to great use in CMI’s upcoming virtual events – why not book your place on our virtual networking session celebrating 50 years of CMI Women?
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