The most important thing you have to offer is yourself and your experience.
The 2020 round of conferencing has been completely disrupted. No more jetting around the world or even international travel to get to the 2-3 day events. COVID has firmly placed its stamp on the current virtual modus operandi. Many conferences have either been completely cancelled, postponed or switched to online formats. So where does that leave one of the most important benefits of these events – networking?
Well, like the conference itself, networking is still happening, but now it is taking place over an internet connection rather than a platter of, often, indigestible finger-food.
How do you make this change work for you?
Read on for 3 steps on how to effectively e-network.
1: Make the most of opportunities
Create a list of people you want to meet
Go through the attendee profiles and make a list of those people who you would like to have as part of your network. Once you have clicked on the “like to meet” button you can send them a meeting request to chat outside the group discussions. Once they have accepted, all meetings take place within the conference platform’s meeting rooms, which makes for easy facilitation.
Virtual chats may take place on the actual event platform – like Zoom where viewers interact in real time – or via social media where chats happen on Twitter with a hashtag. This means that, instead of having to wait for a presentation to be over and raising your hand in the plenary, presenters are able to reply to questions from the live chat as they are speaking.
Break away sessions
Conferences often used to offer breakaway sessions which provided sector-specific conversation facilitation headed up by an industry professional with set topics and discussion points. Conference attendees would choose the session they were interested in and join a group in a particular room away from the plenary.
In a virtual setting, these will likely be smaller breakout groups using video chat software to organise these breakaway sessions in advance. It is here that your connections will prove to be most rewarding.
2: Be intentional
Find out where the chats are happening and ensure you are part of them. The more you participate in an authentic, meaningful way, the more people will recognise your name when you make contact after the event.
During conference sessions, speakers often pack a lot into their timeframe – which will give rise to questions during the live chats. If you have knowledge to share now is the time to do so. You will be positioning yourself as an expert, and broadening your circle by forming a relationship with someone you have never met.
Immediately after the event make sure you send requests to add the presenters and other attendees to your social media network. After actively participating your name will still be fresh in their mind and the likelihood of their accepting your request will be high.
3: Staying in touch
After connecting with attendees during the online conference and following up with the social media requests, the next step is to stay in touch and start building a relationship.
This could be a follow-up message recalling your e-interaction, with an added note that you look forward to more conversations in the future.
The most important thing you have to offer is yourself and your experience. When you are connecting with others, be authentic, be yourself.
And finally, enjoy the experience. Networking should be fun – it provides you with an opportunity to connect and build a community. The more you enjoy it, the more people will respond to your positive energy and want to be part of your network!