Surviving in the world without connections is hard, especially in the world of business. Despite it being a must-have procedure, networking has never been easy. Sure, some people may master it like pros, while others dread it as much as their next dental appointment. And the fact that in-person events have been put on hold for who knows how long, definitely does not make networking any easier. Yet here we are – at the point of no return. Just as event organisers had to adapt to the virtual environment, so must the rest of us. Regardless of whether you’re a startup founder raising your next round of funding or a job seeker looking for professional challenges in this weird new world we’re living in.
Since March 2020 there have been countless online events taking place from TNW Conference, TechBBQ, InfoShare and many more, and each of them taught and revealed something new when it comes to online networking. On top of that, in autumn the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia in cooperation with TechChill brought 10 Latvian startups to the Node by Slush platform. Their experiences in the world of online networking just added another layer on top of what was already said and done. It is definitely not an easy task, BUT it’s not impossible either! Sometimes you just need to step out of your comfort zone, so here are some tips on how to get the most out of networking at virtual events even if you are just dipping your toe in the water.
Networking starts way ahead of the event
Don’t wait for the event to arrive. Get ahead of everyone by announcing it on social media that you’re going to participate to let your target audience know that the event is coming up and you’re going to be there. LinkedIn will work best as the go-to place for corporate dating, but don’t forget about Facebook or Twitter either, as you never know what connections it can lead to.
Know who you are and what you bring to the table
In order not to waste anyone’s time before even starting to schedule meetings, you need to understand your brand, as well as your aims for the event. Otherwise you’re going fishing, while the bait is still at home. Don’t complicate it either. Start by answering these simple questions:
While at in-person events you can accidentally bump into someone, virtual events will require a bit more effort and some virtual elbow grease. It’s not a bad idea to set measurable goals for yourself such as “have meetings with 5 new people” or “gain 10 new LinkedIn connections”.
Register on the event platform at the first chance you get
Pretty much all virtual events have their own platforms or mobile apps, which come in handy to follow the agenda, see the speakers list, and most importantly – research other attendees. In fact, there are so many different platforms out there, that you will most probably need some time to adjust to each of them.
More often than not you can join the platform days, if not weeks, before the actual event. Get a head start – sign up, create your profile and write a short bio using your pitch that you have already developed by answering the questions above. Don’t forget to add a profile picture. You might think that having a silhouette for a pic will help you stand out, but it won’t. Definitely link your LinkedIn profile as well to give the interested parties a bit more information about yourself.
Alright, your profile is all set up. What’s next? Well, it’s time to get to work. Scan the list of attendees and create your priority lists – who to contact before the event, who to meet during the event and who can be approached after the event via email or social media. The sooner you start, the better your chances of locking in a meeting. If you hesitate too long, you might just end up with fully booked schedules on the other side, and no one wants that.
Freeze out your calendar for the event
The event should be your top priority. No outside meetings, checking the e-mail or other things that you can do on any other day. You have one focus and one focus only – the current event. You should treat it exactly like you would treat an in-person event – set an OOO message for your incoming emails, disable Slack notifications etc. Don’t let other trivial side tasks or deadlines take off your focus from the main mission of networking and scoring new leads.
Use the platform chat
No matter how well prepared you are, you’ll never have the time to meet or reach out to everyone. Some potential leads will simply slip through the cracks. An alternative way to get a few new leads is to post a link to your LinkedIn profile in the event chat along the things you can offer and are looking for. This should result in at least a few new connection requests. And it will work even better if you can do it during a session which attracts your target audience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and comment during the sessions as well, as it will give you more visibility. The chat is ever-changing, so you can repeat the process several times a day. But don’t overdo it or you’ll risk becoming annoying. Let’s say that on an average you should post your LinkedIn profile no more than three times a day and comment once or twice per session.
Try you luck at speed dating
Some virtual events offer speed dating – 3-minute long random meetings with other attendees. Will these meetings be of the highest quality? Probably not, but this is the closest we can get to a chance encounter in the line for a coffee at an in-person event. If you get matched up with a good lead, you can schedule a follow-up meeting to go more into detail. And if you get matched up with some of no interest to you… well, the meeting is going to be over soon enough anyway.
Follow up and strengthen the relationships
All too often we pay so much attention to getting new contacts that we forget about the existing ones. Virtual events are great not only for getting new leads, but also for renewing and strengthening the relationships that might have gone cold over the time. The same goes for the contacts you’re adding to your network during the event – check in with them soon after the event to continue building on the new relationships. Don’t be afraid to offer your help. Giving an introduction to someone else or sharing a golden business advice will go a long way to maintain the relationship. ‘What comes around goes around’ can sure be applied to positive things too.
It’s no secret that virtual events don’t give you that warm and fuzzy feeling and there is no beer and laughter in the evenings once the meetings are done, but at the end of the day it is what it is. Hopefully soon enough we’ll be able to go back to handshakes and chance encounters, but until then go ahead and use the tips above to sharpen your networking skills for the virtual world. Looking for some practice? Be sure to join at least some of the upcoming startup events, organized in Latvia or globally, including Deep Tech Atelier and TechChill, where you can use the new skills in practice.
by Āris Brencis | Investor, Startup & Community Manager at TechChill