By Warwick Merry
Yesterday’s great debate on Virtual Networking Sessions was interesting to read. While both Simon Baggs from Lateral Event Management and Thomas Gray from EventsAir both agreed that face-to-face networking is always the best, it was interesting to see their opinions on the relative merit of online networking.
I am here to tell you online networking DOES work. 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:
I am sorry. As an extrovert we cut you off all the time when online. We think you not saying something means you have nothing to say. My introvert friends tell me 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 the introverts, 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 go for a smaller group. As organisers, create space for groups of three or four. That way everyone gets heard and no one can hide! As individuals, use the messenger part of the conference app. If you are chatting in a larger group or have a connection, take it to a private chat.
It’s speed dating not consummation
Too many people when networking want to get straight to doing business. That has NEVER been the case, even with face-to-face networking. You are both here for the event so you may not want to get straight down to business. Use the 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. Leave a little mystery!
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 may want what this person is offering. Referrals are incredibly valuable. Your friend will love you for solving their problem and your new friend will love the introduction.
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 may tend towards friendships which is great. Go into your conversion with an open mind. Who knows what may happen!
Attraction rather than promotion
One of the best ways to network is by attraction. Show people you are the 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 left field 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. Face-to-face you can have a drink, talk about catering, talk about the venue and so on. There are all kinds of light and fluffy talk you can do. It is Analogue. There is a range of possibilities.
Online we are digital. On or off, yes or no, and it takes some getting used to. You have to specifically work at networking, it doesn’t happen by accident. You have to put yourself out there more. You have to take bigger risks. But because fewer people do it, the returns can also be big.
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 tracky 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 it is a good thing) and have a bit of fun. Be yourself and put yourself out there.
Let me know if you need any help.
Warwick Merry CSP, CVP is a Certified Speaking Professional, Dual Certified Virtual Presenter and Past National President of Professional Speakers Australia. He hosts and produces online events. Discover more at WarwickMerry.com