Amid stay-at-home orders, virtual networking has become the norm for making connections. With most people sheltering in place, the majority of events have quickly adapted to digital platforms in order to bring communities together on the internet.
Nowadays, meeting people is often just a few clicks away, as easy as participating in a Zoom call and leaving your contact info in the chat section. While the online space has made it easier to form relationships, when it comes to reaching out to people, the good rules of in-person networking still apply. You wouldn't, for example, walk up to random speakers at a conference and hand them your business cards. Instead, you would memorize their names, research them online, and approach them with a meaningful conversation starter.
As always, being prepared can go very far in social situations. Here are four ways you can get the most out of your virtual events:
Leverage Google or LinkedIn for research
Soon after registering for an event, go back to the agenda and write down the names of the speakers you're interested in talking to. Look them up on Google, LinkedIn and other social networks to find common ground or learn what they've been up to. Make note of the most salient pieces of information and think about how you can incorporate them into your outreach. Doing your homework goes a long way in making the other person comfortable and receptive to hearing from you.
Have something to say
Combined with the event theme, your research should spark some thoughts on how you'd like to engage your speakers. You can easily get someone's attention by preparing thoughtful questions that make them think or feel something. Come up with talking points and specific feedback to share soon after the event.
Be clear on what you want the outcome to be
Have a specific goal for what you want out of interacting with the speakers you're interested in talking to. Would you like to just ask them a question or actually have a one-on-one Zoom call? Are you hoping to turn them into potential mentors, job leads, or industry connections? Figure out how they can offer the most value to you and be very articulate about your goal. Be sure to also mention how you can use your resources to support them as well.
Follow-up and/or stay in touch
If you don't hear back from someone after more than a week, feel free to politely follow-up as they might have missed your email the first time. If you do successfully reach them and they offer their time in any way, be sure to not only thank them but also keep in touch in the future. This can mean sending regular updates of what you're doing as well as warm emails to acknowledge their milestones or offer help for upcoming projects.
Just like a friendship, a professional relationship requires constant nurturing. Be intentional. Have something to say and maintain your connection in meaningful creative ways.