Virtual events, from small webinars to large scale web-based exhibitions and conferences have been part of the industry for many years. However, their strong dependence on technology in conjunction with the perception of a lack of interactivity made them up until recently a less favorable option for most event organisers and businesses. With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a worldwide ban on mass gatherings and fast tracking digitalisation, virtual events have been gaining traction.
Even though events have shifted online, networking remains crucial - as it can lead to increased brand awareness and new client or partner acquisition. As a concept, the term networking usually refers to the act of meeting new contacts, engaging in conversation and exchanging information to establish long-term relationships. Looking at the definition, it is evident that networking isn’t bound to a physical setting and can therefore most definitely also take place in a virtual environment.
To help you make the most out of your virtual event networking, we have compiled a list of simple steps you can take to best prepare and maximise your opportunity to form meaningful connections.
1. What do I want to get out of the event?
Before attending an event (virtual or live) you should set desired goals. Do you want to gain new leads? Do you want to make industry connections? Are you looking for partners? Are you looking for suppliers? Being clear on what you want the outcome to be is crucial. This will help you focus and ensure you capitalise on all available networking opportunities.
2. Sharing is caring
Let people know you are attending events – via social media or your daily interactions. Providing valuable content to your contacts and followers is a great way to engage with your existing network.
3. Test, test and test again
Not being able to find an event venue has been a challenge most of us have experienced in the past. Similarly, in the virtual event world, accessing the webinar or workshop “room” is often accompanied by technical difficulties. To ensure you are able to log onto the session, remember to test the platform beforehand and check that your company’s IT will allow you to use all features required (i.e. microphone, camera, specified browser). In some cases, these will be “locked”, and you will not be able to gain access to them in time for the session.
4. Be prepared
Most events regardless of whether they are hosted in the physical or the virtual world, usually commence with businesses introducing themselves. You should always be prepared and have your elevator pitch ready when it is your turn to speak about yourself and your company. By preparing ahead of time, you will be able to perfect your messaging and ensure you make a good first impression. In addition, already having an idea of what your introduction will be, will enable you to focus on what your fellow attendees are saying instead of trying to develop your pitch on the spot.
5. An image is worth a thousand words
Effective virtual event networking highly relies on attendees being able to see each other. To maximise your opportunities of building connections you should consider:
- Checking that your camera feature is working correctly
- Checking that your lighting is good
- Ensuring your attire is appropriate to represent your business
- Ensuring your background (physical or digital) is appropriate for the event you are attending
- Don’t forget to check your profile image. On some platforms this will appear as a thumbnail in the comments or if your Wi-Fi stalls, so you’ll want to be sure that’s suitable.
6. What’s my name?
When signing up to virtual events is it important that you sign in with your full name and company name and not use abbreviations, nicknames or other usernames predominantly used for personal calls with friends and family. In addition to complementing your professional image, it will enable event attendees to be able to find you online and connect with you on professional networks like LinkedIn.
1. Time is of the essence
Make sure you arrive early on the call. Contrary to live events where a number of small groups usually form before the events start, on virtual workshops this is not possible. Usually the first few people on the call will be the ones engaging in conversation prior to everyone logging on and the session starting.
In addition, arriving early is critical to ensure you don’t miss the business introductions. As it is not as easy to strike up conversations with individual attendees, in a virtual setting, it is crucial to be present and listen carefully to the introductions at the beginning whilst taking notes if required. This will help you identify who could be a useful connection for you and your business and therefore who you need to make sure you have a chance to speak to during the event.
2. Actively participate in the event
Virtual events can always feel a bit more uncomfortable than live ones because of the physical limitations involved. Meeting someone in person is often easier because body language can help you pick up signals and reactions from your conversation partner, adapt your message and convey your intentions more effectively. To counteract the lack of physical interaction, you should try to be more social than you usually would in a similar environment and seek to engage with event participants. This could be achieved through joining the conversation during the workshop or using the chat function to instantly message the group as a whole or individual attendees privately.
3. Remember! The rules of traditional networking still apply
Don’t hesitate to offer advice or support to attendees even if it is completely unrelated to your service. Just because we’re operating in a virtual word, doesn’t mean that the rules of good networking cease to apply.
As one of our training providers at incredibble, Helen Dibble, points out:
“Say hello to others and champion other people’s good ideas. Be helpful - if a fellow guest asks for a link the presenter has mentioned, and you have it on hand, share it in the group chat, it’s like passing the nibbles. The most important thing to remember though is to not sell. Use the time instead to build connections, let people know what’s available and be of service. Ask how you can help, share advice and recommend people or services if you can and it’s appropriate”.
Mike Pye, Founder and Director of Mike Pye + Co and another one of our training providers adds:
“Whether it’s face to face or digital, networking is all about meeting people, with no agenda to sell to them. Learning about them, how you can help them with any of their challenges and trying to connect on a human level. This means asking lots of open questions, trying to build rapport, learning about them and their businesses and how you might be able to help them through advice, introductions, referrals, recommendations etc. It’s an exercise in rapport building not sales. The key thing is listening, not talking, not rushing in to share your elevator pitch but asking open questions and seeing how you can help.”
4. You can’t make contact without contact details
Similarly to live events, acquiring contact details for new connections is critical. Remember that you can reach out and start a private conversation with attendees you think could be useful contacts and request their details before the end of the event. Alternatively, you can also make note of their name and company name and reach out through LinkedIn following the event.
Post-event networking for virtual workshops follows the same rules as traditional networking as it takes places after the event has ended and is therefore not dependent on the nature of the event (live or virtual). In all cases you should:
- Follow up with your connections in a timely manner
- Share your experience and learnings on social media
- Review the experience based on the event objectives defined in the pre-event phase
A detailed analysis of the post-event networking steps is available through our Event Networking Toolkit.
Aspa Evangelopoulou, Events Coordinator
Aspa is an experienced events management professional, who has delivered a variety of B2B events within the commercial and third sectors. Aspa manages the Green Technologies & Services team's programme of events and workshops, which include the Switched On masterclass series. Aspa also manages the Manufacturing and Engineering team's programme of events which are held across the North West and delivers the Manufacturing Champions event programme.