12 Tips to Ace Networking at Your Next Virtual Event
Networking is crucial for growing your career and brand, and this guide will help you transform your professional interactions. Like any gathering, virtual events and webinars, plus their breakout sessions, are a stellar way to build relationships. Focus on meeting new prospects, strengthening existing relationships, increasing awareness of your brand, and generating leads.
Do you dread networking at online events? Or do you want to know efficient ways to build meaningful relationships? Either way, this practical guide is for you. Get ready to learn how to network like a pro and establish beneficial connections that will take your career or business to the next level.
1. Prepare ahead of time
To make the most of your participation in a virtual event or webinar, spend some time in advance organizing your event schedule. Make sure to block off time on your calendar, if not for the entire event, at least for the duration of the sessions that are most relevant to you and your brand. To ensure you are comfortable and can limit interruptions, consider your surroundings and the environment from which you will participate. Is your background appropriate so that you can turn on your camera? A white wall is okay. But it’s also great to provide a glimpse of your personality. Position yourself in front of a painting, your collection of records or guitars, a bookcase, a plant, or your children’s drawings. A relaxed and pleasant ambiance will allow you to focus on the virtual event and will elevate your ability to engage and network.
2. Tailor your elevator pitch to perfection
A well-thought out and rehearsed elevator pitch will give you significant leverage in networking opportunities during the virtual event. The goal of an elevator pitch is to help those who aren’t familiar with your brand or profile understand your strengths, expertise, and unique selling points. You have about 30 seconds (the average time of an elevator ride) to explain what you do and spark the listener’s curiosity in your products or services. Speak naturally and maintain a conversational tone when you deliver it. The best way to engage listeners is to end your pitch with a question while also being prepared to accept questions. Finally, remember to be your best self and cheerful with a smile.
3. Prepare a list of icebreaker questions
At a virtual trade show where physical presence is missing from the communication’s equation, icebreaker questions are excellent conversation starters when you want to network with participants from different professional or cultural backgrounds or discuss a topic that’s new to you. Prepare a list of questions in advance so that you are ready to drive momentum and avoid missed opportunities during networking moments and breakout sessions. Icebreaker questions can be funny, introductory, meaningful — or all three. Their purpose is to help you begin to know the other person in a relaxing way and advance conversations.
Some examples of good icebreakers are:
- How do you combat distractions when working from home?
- What new professional skills would you like to learn?
- What is your favorite karaoke song?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
- What is your dream job?
- What languages do you speak?
- If you could live in any country, where would you live?
4. Keep a captivating conversation in your back pocket
Don’t sit on the sidelines while others network and engage in significant conversations. An excellent way to make an impact is through storytelling. Imagine you’re at a cocktail party: sharing an intriguing and memorable story engages other attendees, while building authentic relationships and rapport with others because you’re going beyond a basic exchange of formal or superficial information. The same is true at any networking event. Let your story tell who you are, why you are at the event, what your link is to the industry, whom your solutions serve, and what your vision is. To make your story memorable, add an element of suspense by presenting a problematic situation and its resolution.
5. Add value when you join a conversation
Networking at a virtual event is fast-paced: it’s taking place before and after virtual presentations and during breakout sessions so time is limited. Participants are looking to network with people who will introduce them to new ideas, challenge their thinking, and engage on best practices and skills. Add value to the conversation by presenting clear evidence and fact-based arguments. When you are asked a question, don’t give a yes or no answer. Expand on something helpful that will progress the conversation. Then, you can continue adding value by expressing curiosity about other people’s concerns and pain points. Ask them how you can help and actively do so in by recommending a contact, book, service, or other resource.
If you engage with prospects, help them understand how your service or product will help them solve a problem — a problem they may not even know they have until you mention it. If you know potential partners or employers will be in the event or webinar, make sure to check their LinkedIn in advance to grasp their tone, interests, and background. Let’s say you find out that you have studied at the same university or have a couple of contacts in common. You can use this information as an icebreaker! Don’t just throw comments in the conversation for the sake of commenting; understand the point and ask yourself: do I have new, valuable information to add? If the answer is yes, then speak up with clear, short sentences.
A practical tip here is to be ready to read the (virtual) room and pay attention to your listener’s body language. Are they looking away or reaching for their phone while you are still talking? These are signals that they are not engaged or interested anymore. The moment you spot this, you should know that it’s time to wrap it up or — even better — make it about them. Ask them a question that shows you are interested in what they have to say.
6. Keep conversations relevant
Don’t underestimate the importance of relevance when connecting with other people. Start the conversation with a question that will challenge the other person to think about a problematic area in their business or life that needs improvement. Then, grasp the opportunity to present them with a solution. This kind of relevant conversation works particularly well with prospects, who will appreciate the sincere interest in their needs. The conversation is about what’s relevant to them and not about achieving a personal or business goal. And remember: you’re in a specific virtual event, webinar, or breakout session, so your conversation should also be relevant to that setting.
7. Be a good listener
When you begin to network, allow the other person to talk about themselves first. During this time, your task is to be a good listener. It may sound obvious, but not everyone has the qualities of a good listener, which you can obtain through practice. A good listener is not someone who steps back or becomes a passive recipient of information. What differentiates average from great listeners is the ability to be actively present and support the speaker’s thoughts through constructive feedback — easier said than done in the virtual world! It’s acceptable to interrupt periodically to ask clarifying questions and give feedback without being defensive.
A big no-no while listening is to use this time as an opportunity to prepare what you want to say next or to be distracted by other items in the virtual event or on your computer (you remembered to put your computer on Do Not Disturb, right?). People can tell when you aren’t really listening or can’t wait to start talking about yourself rather than engaging in a two-way conversation. Remember that good listening skills will benefit the relationship with the other person in the long-run. For example, think of a fact or an experience the other person shared with you in your initial conversation, and use it in the future to show that they have left a lasting effect on you.
8. Don’t forget traditional conversation etiquette
Again, online networking follows the same rules of in-person conversations. Politeness will help you build relationships with people and define your networking course. However, because time is limited during virtual events, it’s easy to come across as bad-mannered due to stress, weariness, or simply the unusualness of interacting digitally.
Here are some tips on how to ensure that the other person feels respected during a networking conversation:
- Don’t bring unnecessary details into the conversation because they will bore the other person and kill valuable time.
- Don’t interrupt the other person; instead, encourage them to go on by asking relevant and thought-provoking questions.
- When it’s your turn to talk, don’t focus only on yourself, but expand on your team, colleagues, and other organizational details.
- Don’t exaggerate, and try to stick to the facts to maintain your credibility.
- Accept that it’s okay not to know everything, and admit so when you have doubts about a particular topic. Asking questions is great!
- Keep in mind the setting you are in and joke with care because you don’t know what might offend the other person.
- Keep your piece short and use the right time to finish speaking without monopolizing the conversation.
- Think of yourself as the host of a conversation, making sure the other person is having a good time, and feels appreciated and heard.
- Call the other person by their name to create a direct connection.
- Include quieter people in the conversation by addressing them and inviting them discreetly to say their opinion without putting them on the spot discourteously.
- Don’t rush into replying, but allow yourself time to organize and filter your thoughts. Most importantly, remember that silence is always an option, and sometimes the best one.
9. Go outside your network
You will see other attendees, who are outside your industry or job, in sessions, workshops, roundtables, and meetings. Do not allow your own title or skill set to limit your networking opportunities. Diverse connections will bring a fresh outlook on your professional life or business, even if they remain merely personal connections and never convert to professional.
Connect with a wide range of people through universal business topics, including leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, and remote work — and, of course, whatever the topic of the virtual event or webinar is. Avoid talking about your daily tasks or responsibilities unless you are asked.
10. Stay until the end of the virtual event
Remember that even a last-minute connection with someone can prompt a big lead or great partnership. So, stay until the end of the event and continue networking when others stop.
11. Follow up after the event
A conversation at a virtual event is the first step in networking. To truly benefit, you must create a follow-up and stay-in-touch strategy. A day or two after the event, send a follow-up email to the people you met and would like to know better, expressing your appreciation for their time. Here, your listening skills come in handy again. Recollect a detail they shared with you during the event, and include it in the email to remind them who you are and show that they have left a lasting effect on you. In the same email, you can offer help (e.g., “Here’s the link to the free eBook I was telling you about.”), but never ask for a favor at this stage.
Wait a few days before you connect with them on LinkedIn to seal the professional relationship. When you send the invitation to connect, add a personal note with where and how you met to help them to help connect the dots. Since this is your chance to showcase your work and talents, make sure you have a LinkedIn profile that highlights yourself and your brand or product.
The next step is simply to keep in touch. While it requires long-term effort, maintaining connections digitally — especially on LinkedIn — is worthwhile because it also allows you to keep in touch with their entire network, which could prove valuable when you least expect it. Once a month is a recommended time to check-in. Birthdays, work anniversaries, or other occasions the connection shares publicly also are excellent excuses to reach out.
12. Enjoy Yourself
Half of the networking job is done the moment you decide to enjoy the process. So, put your brightest smile on and bring in your personality to your next webinar, virtual event, or post-networking follow-up moment and be ready to engage with other interesting people. Remember that, the more people you network with, the more chances you have to achieve your goal: sales, finding a new job, sealing a partnership deal, recruiting, etc.