Online networking does work, when done well. The majority of my clients for the last 18 months I have never met in person, yet they are thrilled with my work, and we continue to do business together. While some conversations started at events, they continued to one-on-one online meetings and then a contract. So, how do we make networking at online events not only work, but make it a pleasure? Here are a few pointers:
It’s Not About You
You need your elevator pitch but more importantly, you need to ask better questions. When you have your quick one on one, discover more about the person and their business. Good listening means better questions, which leads to better outcomes. Sometimes the outcome isn’t for you, but one of your colleagues might want what this person is offering. Referrals are incredibly valuable. Your colleague will be grateful to you for solving their problem and your new friend will greatly appreciate the introduction.
I am sorry. As an extrovert, we cut you off all the time when online. We too often think that you not saying anything means you have nothing to say. But I know from my introvert friends that this is not true.
The good news is that when you connect, you often do it better. Your listening skills are more advanced. You are better at seeking the right time to say the right thing. So on behalf of all the introverts out there, can I ask my extrovert friends to say less and listen more? You will be amazed at the social cues you will pick up on.
Networking in large online groups doesn’t work. It is like trying to have a private conversation in the middle of a packed dance floor. So, instead opt for a smaller group setting.
Event organizers should aim to create space for groups of three or four people. That way everyone gets heard and no one can hide. Planners should encourage attendees to also use the messenger part of the conference app to continue the conversation afterwards. Those chatting in a larger group or who have a connection with someone specifically can use this feature to move things to a private chat.
Take it Slow
Too many people when networking want to get straight to doing business, but this can be a big turn-off in both virtual and face-to-face settings. Some people don't want to get right down to business, especially those who have been working from home and are longing to make new connections.
Use this opportunity to get to know each other a little and then maybe schedule a one-on-one conversation after the event. Remember, classic sales is: know you, like you, trust you. It's good to leave a little mystery!
It’s Not Always Business Related
Our industry is awesome. I have made some amazing friends and even done business with them along the way. Sometimes your conversations might lead toward friendships, which is great. Go into your conversion with an open mind. Who knows what might happen!
Attraction Rather Than Promotion
One of the best ways to network is by attraction. Show people you are an industry expert. Let people wonder, “Who is that person?” so they can then approach you to find out. That doesn’t mean dominate the chat box, but it does mean you need to contribute. You need to support the speakers by reflecting on their comments. You need to reply to other comments happening. You need to contribute relevant but new ideas. You actually need to state what you want. Let people know you are open to conversation and networking. Don’t be the best-kept secret at the event.
It Takes Effort
Online networking takes effort. When meeting face to face, you can have a drink, talk about the catering, discuss the venue and so on. Virtual networking doesn't come as easy and it won't happen by accident. You have to work at it and put yourself out there more. You have to take bigger risks. But because fewer people do it, the returns can also be bigger.
Networking can be a challenge at the best of times. So many people I know are not big fans of it. It is why we often add alcohol, so that we can attract people with free booze and then let them loosen up. When you are stone cold sober, sitting at your desk in your track pants, it can be daunting. So relax. Pop on a bit of background music. Put a smile on your face (it will help convince you that this is a good thing) and have a bit of fun. Be yourself and put yourself out there.
Warwick Merry is a certified speaking professional, dual certified virtual presenter and past national president of Professional Speakers Australia. He hosts and produces online events globally.