When COVID hit, it felt like everything in our lives had to pivot, from how and when we got our groceries, right up to how we work and network. In-person networking events with drinks, snacks, and handshakes were suddenly stopped. And while many aspects of our lives are slowly returning to how they were before COVID, virtual events (and with them, virtual networking) seem to be here to stay.
While it may be awkward at first, networking in a virtual setting can be just as, if not more, fulfilling than in-person networking. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your next virtual networking session.
Getting to know someone while sitting in your kitchen, living room, or home office may feel more casual than a formal session, but it’s important to remember that this is still a professional meeting. Make sure you look well-groomed and appropriately dressed — including appropriate pants, since you never know if you’ll have to stand up suddenly while on camera.
I’ve talked before about the importance of cleansing your online presence of any unflattering content, but it’s just as important to make sure your online profiles (particularly LinkedIn) are up to date and detailed. Anyone meeting you in a networking setting is most likely to connect with you later on (or investigate you ahead of time) via LinkedIn, so make sure your profile is as accurate as possible.
The digital age is great! We can do so much on our computers, tablets, and smartphones, but every now and then, technology fails us. It’s best to log in a few minutes before your networking session starts to test your camera and audio equipment. Going in early will also allow you to identify any errors with your equipment, leaving you time to contact the person you’re meeting to offer an alternative method to talk if you can’t get things working on time.
The beauty of virtual networking is that you often know ahead of time exactly who you are meeting. If the meeting is a one-on-one session, show up with a list of questions specific to that individual. Find out what their areas of expertise or interests are, and guide the conversation to those topics. Nobody wants their time wasted, so coming prepared and with purpose will make a good impression and help you get the most out of your time with your networking partner.
If you’re attending a virtual networking event with multiple people, try and locate the list of attendees ahead of time to determine who you most want to speak with. Again, have a list of topics to discuss with the people you want to connect with at the event, but don’t be afraid to go off-topic if the conversation naturally leads that way.
One of the benefits of meeting virtually, over in-person, is the fact that you have your entire portfolio at your fingertips. If you have something to show — a website or game you’re designing, a new brand or marketing campaign you’re working on — share your screen and show it to them! Having an additional visual to focus on (instead of just staring at each other) can help break the ice and will provide a more concrete example to the other person of what you are capable of. So come prepared with some visuals (and make sure you practice ahead of time how to share your screen).
It might feel awkward asking someone who just gave you a portion of their day for another favour, but asking your networking partner to introduce you to their colleagues will expand your connections and allow you to meet with more like-minded people. Most of the time, people are happy to connect you with others you may benefit from knowing. And of course, if you know someone who you think your networking partner should meet, share that information with them.
One of the best things about networking in a virtual setting is that you can connect with people all over the world. You are no longer limited to the places you are willing or able to travel to. Connecting with people in a different city or country can help you gain a new perspective, or learn about what professionals in other places are doing, which may help you level up your game at home. Don’t let borders pose limits on your networking prospects! Some of the most important people you can meet may live hours (or days) away from you.
Someone just took time out of their day to talk to you, so it’s common courtesy to thank them. While you’ll (hopefully) say thank you at the end of your virtual meeting, an email or a handwritten note after the meeting thanking them for their time and letting them know what your biggest takeaway from the meeting was will make you stand out. It will also make them feel you were worth their time, and they are more likely to remember you when other opportunities come up in the future.