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Many of us are under shelter at home orders right now and even those of us who aren’t under formal orders are practicing precautionary measures like social distancing and staying at home. After three weeks or so of this new reality we’re becoming pros, aren’t we? But while we all get used to using Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms and we navigate the technology, it’s likely your audience may still be feeling awkward about how to connect with people in an online networking capacity. While we want to have fun and see one another, these chamber events are also important networking opportunities and most businesses could use those right now.
Use this article to remind participants of how they can reach their goals using virtual networking. While in-person networking and virtual networking share some of the same social etiquette, there are a few things that are different.
Most people think of FaceTime and other virtual calling activities as casual communication platforms. But if you treat the chamber’s virtual networking events with the same mentality, you could be doing yourself a disservice. We put together this article to help all of us get the most from our virtual time together.
1. Introduce Yourself and Reach Out to Others
Most of our virtual networking events will begin with an icebreaker or chat as we wait for people to join. Many participants will answer the question the host asks but few try to engage with one another during this time.
If someone shares something that’s of interest to you, feel free to comment on this. You may not be able to have an entire conversation around the topic but you can certainly make someone feel good by listening and interacting with them.
2. Prepare Your Intro
Every virtual event has an introduction moment. You can spend the first few minutes of the networking event trying to think of what you’re going to write or you can come up with it ahead of time and simply copy and paste it when asked to introduce yourself. The benefit to preparing it ahead of time is that you can perfect you’re messaging so that you say exactly what you want to and don’t succumb to the pressure of trying to think of something on the spot.
It also makes you more present for others who are sharing at the same time. If you were trying to come up with something at that moment your focus most likely will be on your own words when it should be on other people for you to have the most effective networking time.
3. Prepare Like You Would an In-person Networking Event
If you were attending an in-person networking event at the chamber, you would likely look at the list of attendees and decide who you wanted to meet. If a list is not available ahead of time, you should still give some thought about the types of people you want to meet.
What is your goal behind attending this networking event? Are you new in town and you just want to meet like-minded people? Or are you like most business professionals looking for sales? Maybe you’re looking for someone to partner with or a specific skill set. Whatever your goal, you have someone in mind who could help you meet it. This is no different in a virtual event.
The only difference between an in-person networking event and a virtual one is that everyone involved in the virtual happy hour will get to be part of your conversation. But you still likely have certain people who you are more interested in meeting when it comes to your business goals.
Keep in mind that while you have a goal and you want to meet someone specifically to help with that, it’s important to involve everyone in the conversation. If you want to be well regarded at the end of the virtual meeting, don’t leave anyone out.
But knowing who you want to meet is still important. That’s where the next tip comes in.
4. Get Contact Information
Building on the previous idea, since you will be interacting in a large group–and not one-on-one–it will most likely be impossible for you to solidify the type of relationship you were looking for that will lead you to attain your goal during the virtual meeting. That’s why you want to get contact information afterward.
Most virtual networking meetings will ask participants to share their contact information. If you have prepared and know who it is that you want to connect with, you can make sure you get that contact information before the end of the call. In some situations, you may be able to replay the call or access it after it’s live. If the content will be available later, we’ll tell you where you can find it.
5. Ask Why
If there’s time for interacting between participants, it’s always best to fill it with questions for others. When you ask questions and listen to responses that person feels valued. If you don’t have a good question based on the conversation that is taking place, often asking “why” can further the conversation.
The people you’re talking to at this virtual event are at home with the same faces all day, every day. They have a new audience now and there will be many who take advantage of that. If you can be a good listener who asks excellent questions and gets people involved in the conversation, you will stand out from the other virtual networkers.
6. Bring the Positive Attitude
Most of us are feeling scared, annoyed, and worried about the future. Even if you don’t take the health threat seriously, the threat to business is one that weighs heavily on all of our minds. It’s easy for a virtual networking event to turn into a giant convention of Eeyores.
The con to this happening is that while we may all have something to say about it, we won’t get off the call feeling better. We’ll shut our laptop or turn off our phone and feel like we just watched the evening news.
People don’t need that right now.
Positivity is contagious. People will be drawn to it. Bring a positive attitude. If you’re able to share some of your coping mechanisms or best practices for reducing stress. Tell participants something that you found inspiring, share some good news, or ask a question that has a positive spin like “what is the thing you’re most proud of that you’ve done during the virus?”. Then sit back and let others share the things they enjoy. Everyone will leave the call feeling better and if they attribute that feeling to you, that’s amazing.
7. Avoid the Negative
Again, when people who have been cooped up have a new outlet, they may feel the desire to share things they’re frustrated about. This could include leadership, the amount of time it’s taking to get checks, rude behavior, and other things that can bring the mood down.
For example, even if everyone on the call agrees that local leaders could have done more sooner (or some other negative), don’t join in. When participants talk about the call later to others who weren’t on the call, the last thing you want is for someone to quote your negativity.
If they do, it’s unlikely they will share and then say “everyone was saying that.” When it gets reported out, your name will be attached to it and it won’t matter that everyone else on the call agreed.
But that aside, while we all need to vent sometimes, negativity doesn’t have a place on a virtual networking call. Especially now.
8. Share Your Specials
When you’re invited to do so, make sure you share your business specials. if you have changed your practices in any way to better serve your customers, share those as well. You can also offer something special to only those people on the call. That will create a VIP feeling among them.
9. Write Reviews
When you get off the call one of the first things you can do before following up with the contacts who are most of interest to you, is to write a review for their business online. Post to social media about your interaction with that business, their products or services.
Reviews go a long way in helping that business get more customers. The reviews also make the people behind the business feel good about what they’re doing. It’s likely they’re struggling, financially and emotionally. Your kind words can light the fire they need to get through today.
10. Connect People
If someone voices a need during the call and you know someone who can help meet that need or provide a solution, connect those people. Being helpful is incredibly important right now and will make people think of you when there’s something you can assist with.
If you’re planning on participating in a virtual networking event, it’s important you take it seriously. While many of us see these virtual events as relationship life rafts right now, serious business connections can be built. You can have fun, be positive and still grow your business. You just want to keep these things in mind.