INSIDE: These days, it's more important than ever to know how to attend an online networking event what with so many people working from home. Here, you'll learn about the different types of online networking events, the technical requirements, best practices, and how to find the best ones.
The work world is changing. More and more companies are taking their wares online, many people have exchanged their cubicle for a home office, and the typical work meeting has gone virtual. And more and more people are starting small businesses from home.
Many of us are starting to become accustomed to taking regular, in-person events, online. From virtual happy hours with co-workers to virtual game nights, doing things online has become the new norm.
The same is true when it comes to networking. Many conferences and events have pivoted and moved their regular in-person events into the virtual environment. While it’s wonderful that we can still “attend” these events, it is an adjustment.
Surviving in a virtual environment
For some, the virtual environment is lacking. There’s no face-to-face interaction, no handshakes (eww, remember when we did this?), and sometimes it can be difficult to read people through a screen.
For others, perhaps the more introverted types, an online networking environment might be preferred. Attending a virtual event may feel less intimidating and stressful.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of appreciating a virtual event, this is our new reality…at least for now. So, let’s talk about how to make the most of your online networking experience. What kind of virtual networking events exist, what are the benefits and challenges associated with an online environment, and what do you need to ensure a successful online experience?
Types of online networking events
What does an online networking event look like, and how can you spot one?
Online networking events come in tons of different forms. Some examples include:
- Virtual happy hours
- Online industry seminars
- Virtual lunch and learns
- Online coffee chats
- Virtual conferences
- Online webinars
Basically, an online networking event includes any online communication where you’re expanding your social or business network.
How to network online?
There are so many ways to form new connections online, and you don’t necessarily need to seek out formal virtual events. With social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter, you can take networking into your own hands.
If you want to start networking online, but you’re not sure how to get started, here are some super simple and effective tips.
Join an online group
Let’s say you're a freelance writer and you want to network in order to find new clients and supercharge your freelance career. Get on Facebook and search for an online group for freelance writers. Here you can find your people. You can ask for advice and tips, and sometimes other freelancers will post jobs that are outside of their niche writing area or ones that they don’t have time to complete.
If you have a specific niche area that you specialize in, say healthcare, tech, or finance, you can look for specific groups where you can connect with professionals in the healthcare, tech, and financial services. These are your prospective clients.
You can add value by providing useful feedback to someone's social media post or share their most recent article with praise if you loved it. You can also leave a comment on your favorite blogger’s site with some useful suggestions or insights. All of these things will help you to connect with people that you’re interested in getting to know, and it will help you build your network in a natural kind of way.
Connect on social
Follow or connect with people on LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other social media platform. Target people in your industry that you would like to connect with, be strategic. Start a conversation, like their posts, endorse them, and be consistent. If you like someone's post every month or two, you aren’t going to be very memorable.
Benefits of online networking events
While you may prefer to attend a networking event the old-fashioned way (you know, in-person), there are many benefits to attending a networking event online.
- No travel – I suppose this could be a pro or a con, depending on your love or disdain for travel. If you’re more of a homebody, then you might really enjoy the fact that you can do all of your networking from home. No trains, planes, or automobiles, just flip open your laptop and you’re set.
- Lower cost– Now that you’ve eliminated any major travel, you’re already saving money on plane tickets, car rides, or gas. Online events also eliminate the need for pricey accommodations, eating out, and conference attire. Not to mention that the cost of online networking events (conference fee, cost of webinar etc.) tend to be less money because they’re cheaper to put on. When there’s no pricy venue, expensive speaker accommodations, or fancy dinners to host, these events can be held for a lot less.
- Less stressful – This is especially true if you're a major introvert and you get overwhelmed by the large groups at some networking events. Also, if you’re presenting at a networking event you might find it less intimidating to speak online from the comfort of your home.
- More time – Attending an in-person networking event can be time-consuming. From getting ready to go to commuting to-and-from the event, or even travelling to a far-away conference. Online networking events or virtual meetings can be incredibly efficient because all you have to do is dress from the waist up and walk into your home office.
Technical requirements for attending an online networking event
There is always the potential for technical hiccups at virtual networking events. However, I have to say, this potential also exists at in-person networking events. How many times have you witnessed a speaker struggling to pull up their slide show while the audience patiently waits? These things happen whether it’s virtual or in person.
So, what do you need to set yourself up for a successful online networking experience, from a technical perspective? How can you avoid pesky technical problems in the middle of a virtual conference?
A strong wi-fi connection is a must for virtual conferences and networking events. You don’t want to lose your audio or video in the middle of a conversation.
Do a practice run
Before attending a virtual networking or recruiting event, do a practice run. Make sure that you know how to properly log in and use the online platform. Check out the different interactive features that are offered. Can you screen share, annotate documents, is there a chat box?
By playing around with the platform and familiarizing yourself with it before the virtual event, it won’t feel as intimidating during the real thing and you can focus all of your attention on connecting with others.
Invest in a headset
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time connecting online, a good headset can be invaluable. This can create a better audio experience for you and can often make your voice clearer to people on the other side of the screen.
Know how to come off of mute
I cannot count the number of times someone in an online meeting or event has asked a question only to be met with complete silence before, “Oh sorry, I couldn’t figure out how to come off of mute.” Bahhhh. If you want to make a good impression make sure you know how to unmute yourself before your big networking event.
Ways to find online networking events
Okay, so now we know how to attend an online marketing event but how on earth do we find said events? Here are a few other places you can check out.
I don’t know about you but my starting point for any search is always Google. Punch in any specific industry or topic related terms and then “online networking events.” So, for example, if you want to look up networking events for virtual assistants you could search “virtual assistant virtual networking events.” Viola, you should have some good finds in your search results.
Online networking sites
You can check out large networking sites like Eventbrite or Meetup. These sites can help you find events related to your industry, interest, and location.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media platform, you can use these tools to find great networking events. By following the best businesses or individuals in your area of interest you can see when they are holding virtual events. Trust me, they will be posting this kind of information on their social media. You can also join different groups on social media to connect with people in similar industries.
Your current network: Don’t forget to tap into your existing network of family, friends, and business connections. Send a quick hello or comment on one of their posts. While networking is about making new personal and business connections, it’s also about nurturing the ones you already have.
Be yourself and have fun
Love it or hate it, networking is an important part of growing your businesses or furthering your career. As the world moves online, there are a lot of new and creative opportunities to network with people from around the world, all from the comfort of your home. So, brush your hair, put on your nicest shirt, and join your fellow attendees for a virtual coffee or happy hour. You never know how you’re going to meet and what kind of opportunity you can offer each other.
–By Jessica Martel