Have you ever attended a virtual networking event?
With the pandemic threat still here, you’ll find that many conferences are moving to the virtual platform. We can expect this to continue as in-person events have been postponed until mid-2021. However, these online gatherings are a great alternative because they allow professionals to share knowledge and opportunities as well as connect with others in the safety of their desks at home. Aside from attracting a wider audience, some virtual networking can even be more intimate than in-person events because participants are given time to speak within smaller groups (or even one-on-one) via video chat.
If you’re interested in attending a virtual event and don’t know what to expect, here’s a guide to help you make the most of your experience.
What is it like?
If you’ve attended a Zoom meeting, you’ll feel right at home in a virtual event. You’ll basically be sitting in front of your computer and interacting with others through the screen. While it doesn’t require advanced digital skills, some can be intimidated at first especially if they’re unfamiliar with the icons they see pop-up. Don’t worry, at the start of the event, facilitators will always provide several options for support should you need technical help or if you have questions.
Just like in-person events, virtual ones can have different formats. Some are thematic and rally around a single topic, say for example, “Career development in the time of COVID-19” or industry-specific like “Web conference for Internationally-educated nurses”. Others can focus mainly on the networking aspect like “Virtual Speed Networking for Business Professionals”. These events can also feature a variety of activities like lectures, discussions, question and answer sessions, even games or competitions. However, the networking aspect is a little different in that instead of small talk while getting coffee, it could be in the form of break-out sessions where you’ll be placed in a “room” with several people, or through one-on-one video chats. You may also be given a copy of the participant directory which which will be your reference should you decide to contact those you didn’t meet.
How to prepare for a virtual event
Have clear goals
Know what you want out of the experience and plan for them. It helps to have specific goals like “introduce myself to five new people”, “get 10 new contacts in my field” or “get tips about qualifications recognition from the speakers”. You may need to conduct a quick research on the speakers and participants so that you’ll know who to contact and how best to have meaningful conversations with them.
Prepare an elevator speech
Have a quick intro about yourself ready. Having a short intro will help you maximize the period allotted for your conversations. Your elevator speech should be composed of two to three sentences about yourself, your experience and goals. Make it descriptive and unique so that it will be memorable. Also have three to five questions in mind to ask people you’ll be meeting. Whip them out to help move the conversation along and prevent awkward gaps during the video chat.
Update your resume
Have an updated resume on hand in case a new contact asks you for a copy. Use a format that is easy to email or attach to any app. Some event organizers may also ask participants to submit a short bio with their contact information that they can add to the directory or a community board.
Participate fully and be active. Join discussions, live chats, games and ask questions. Don’t worry too much about taking notes. Presentations are usually recorded. You can just re-watch the recording in case you missed something or request for materials after the event. It can be intimidating to talk to someone who seems closed off, so smile and be lively especially in the one-on-one chats. Remember that there are no other visual cues except for your facial expressions (and some limited body language) when video chatting. The best way to have an engaging conversation is to be genuinely interested in others. Listen and give others an equal chance to speak.
Take care of the basics
Ensure that you have a computer or device that is in good working condition and a stable internet connection. Check the event website for instructions should you need to download a program or an app. Make time to test everything before the event (know how to log on, turn your video/audio on or off, post your name and profile picture), especially if you’re newbie. Consider getting a headset with microphone to improve your audio quality.
To look good, set-up in a room with good lighting. Natural light coming from a window would be good; just make sure that it’s in front of you, not behind or above you (this will create unflattering shadows). See to it that your background is pleasant or at least neat – remember that you’re trying to make a good impression on your prospective contacts. In line with this, wear appropriate clothes and make it a full outfit (in case you need to stand up).
How to make the most of virtual networking:
Extend it to other platforms
Consider tweeting about your participation in the event (for example: “Excited about today’s immigrant-networking event”) or sharing insights about what you’ve learned. Make sure to use the event hashtag. You can also post about it on other social media platforms. This will make you more visible to the organizers, other participants and the industry. It’s also a proactive way to show your professional brand and let them know that you are internet-savvy.
Make sure to update your social media profile (especially on LinkedIn). Interested parties will want to know more about your experience, skills and achievements. This is another way to make a good impression on recruiters and prospective employers.
Follow-up with new connections
Send thank you emails to those you’ve met in the event to make a lasting impression. It will also be easier to request for an informational interview or to connect on LinkedIn if they remember you. Don’t forget to accept those who are requesting to connect with you too.
Where to find virtual networking opportunities:
These events are advertised online usually on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. You can also check Canadian Immigrant Magazine which holds Canadian immigrant fairs regularly, Manitoba Start, Eventbrite, or your respective professional organizations or associations.
Sources: 15 tips on networking during a virtual event, Whova; Four ways to make the most of your virtual networking events, Shelcy V. Joseph, Forbes; 8 tips for making meaningful connections at virtual networking events and online career fairs, Ryan Healy, Brazen Careerlist. Accessed August 26, 2020.
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