January 5, 2021
How to make friends and influence people, virtual event style.
For many of us, networking was awkward enough when everyone was in the same room. Now with more events shifting online, many of us are networking virtually for the first time. And while the virtual setting alleviates some IRL anxieties (e.g.., if you spill coffee on it at 9:02 a.m., you can change right away), it introduces a new slate of questions, even for the pro networkers in the crowd.
What if your audio or video goes out? Without mutual colleagues and/or a shared physical experience to fall back on, how do you start the small talk? And how do you actually “find” people in the first place? How do you prepare for these networking conversations and how can you facilitate follow up?
BigMarker provides a sophisticated slate of networking rooms and opportunities, ranging from pre-scheduled to informal, as well as ways to look up potential connections beforehand and follow up more quickly afterward.
So with research and a targeted networking plan, you can come out of your next virtual event with more opportunities than ever. Here’s where to start:
Once you’ve registered for your event, share it on LinkedIn and/or with your colleagues and include any relevant event hashtags. If the event is big enough, chances are that someone in your circle will also be in attendance—or your post will inspire them to sign up. Although this alone won’t expand your professional network, having a familiar face with you at the event can alleviate any discomfort you have toward networking online.
If you’re attending alongside a close colleague, warm up by chatting informally with one another by phone or video chat on the morning of the event. This way, you can both identify and develop talking points for your own business priorities, professional goals and strengths before discussing them with strangers.
Some virtual event platforms host exclusive networking sessions and “matchmaking” opportunities, offering attendees a more intimate, streamlined networking experience at a premium.
For example, at a recent BigMarker-hosted event, a team of concierges matched participants with their highest-value connections using a custom algorithm prior to the event. During the event, the concierges then gave each participant 3-5 connection recommendations, scheduled 20-minute one-on-one networking sessions for all the participants and sent all the necessary calendar invitations, links and reminders necessary to facilitate the networking opportunities.
After the sessions ended, participants were encouraged to strengthen the connections they’d made through follow-up emails that contained personalized bios and contact information of each contact they met during networking
These top-shelf networking opportunities come at a cost, but they let guests sidestep the “will they, won’t they” and scheduling difficulties of online networking—and walk away with quality connections.
A big upside of virtual networking? With some sleuthing, you can identify the most potentially valuable contacts right away, instead of getting pulled into a 20-minute conversation about fly fishing with someone who ended up at your table.
Take advantage and go in with a plan. Establish quantifiable goals that correspond to your biggest business needs. Examples are “Establish five connections“ or “Schedule a meeting with two people in product development, so that I can solicit opinions about my next rollout.”
Once you’ve considered what your contacts can do for you, pull a Kennedy and remember what you can give them, using the same logic. Maybe you’re great at pivoting in-person gatherings into virtual events or developing next-level digital content. Think of your biggest assets as it relates to the likely needs of fellow event-goers—and prepare to leverage them during your chats.
This targeted strategy lends more structure to the conversations, which relieves the awkwardness of trying to “make friends online.”
Most virtual event platforms, including BigMarker, feature a list of attendees and event partners on their event microsite prior to the event date. Look through yours and organize potential networking connections in a thoughtful manner, prioritizing as appropriate for pre- and post-event outreach via social media, email, or phone.
On BigMarker, each attendee’s profile includes a Virtual Business Card containing a brief professional bio and links to their social media profiles and calendar. Use these Virtual Business Cards to inform your networking priorities and complete yours in its entirety to give other attendees some talking points. BigMarker also allows attendees to filter Virtual Business Cards by organization, role, and location, to allow attendees to find the most pertinent potential connections.
(P.S.: BigMarker Virtual Business Cards let you link to your Calendly calendar, so you can schedule follow up meetings without leaving the platform. Be sure to include your calendar to get the biggest ROI from your virtual networking!)
Virtual events are packed with programming, which you’ll be juggling the event schedule alongside your professional obligations and homelife on event day.
Many virtual event platforms host pre-event chats and discussions on the event microsite in the weeks before the event, on which attendees can participate in a chat thread and introduce themselves. Here, you can share relevant articles and information, answer others’ questions or simply say you’re excited to be there. If you “break the ice” with a few people before the big day, you’ll be able to enter event-day networking with a more informed plan and even a few pre-establish contacts.
Networking’s like working out: the hardest part is getting started. In the pre-event discussions, you can get yourself off the metaphorical couch early, then conduct meaningful networking convos during the main event.
Nothing severs a potential networking connection like actually losing your Internet connection mid-conversation. Most virtual event platforms prompt you to test your microphone and webcam before you log into an event session, so you’ll likely have worked out any technical issues before you start networking.
But to enter the event relaxed and confident, it’s still worth reviewing common troubleshooting tips and resolving any known issues before event day. Some BigMarker recommendations include:
But sometimes, “stuff” happens despite our best preparation, like your device freezing or the system crashing. Have your virtual event platform’s service contact (typically an email address) ready so you can address tech issues quickly and plan to move any conversations to your phone if needed.
Regardless of the venue, many people struggle with the self-promotion required of networking interactions. By providing high-value comments and questions within sessions themselves, you can spotlight your expertise without explicitly needing to state it—the “show, don’t tell” of the networking world.
Virtual event platforms like BigMarker come with a variety of interactive features to encourage engagement by attendees, including a chat box and Q&A panel. Participate in the chat and ask questions with these tools (Do a quick scan of the event agenda and presenter bios before the event, as well as your favorite industry newsletters, and come with questions for your favorite two or three sessions).
If your contributions are insightful and relevant to your industry needs, it’ll spark conversation both within the chat room and after, as other attendees are more likely to remember your name and the knowledge you demonstrated during the discussion.
Bonus: Besides greasing the wheels for your own networking, your participation will make your presenter feel more comfortable and engaged as well.
More and more often, event hosts will supplement the main agenda sessions and networking opportunities with short informal breaks or coffee sessions. Previously the opportunity for attendees to refill their coffee or check email, these “extra” sessions are also the perfect opportunity to start conversations in a less formal setting. In one of these 10- to 20-minute breaks, you can spark a conversation about the last or upcoming speaker, then let the conversation naturally flow toward your and your new connection’s background and business goals.
BigMarker breakout sessions or Networking Center rooms are the perfect way to facilitate smaller discussions amongst event attendees to encourage networking and event participation.
...because you can! A major pain point of IRL networking is the memory load required. You need to remember the person’s background, business imperatives, insights and their preferred method of communication and follow up, which is reasonable until you multiply it by 10 people. And since it’s awkward at best to take notes halfway through a live conversation with a stranger, there’s many opportunities for details—and possible connections—to slip through the cracks.
The virtual setting solves this, as you can low-key set up a notepad next to your monitor and jot down notes throughout your conversation, or simply screenshot important information and copy it down later.
Following IRL networking rules, cement your relationships with your new connections while the event is still top of mind. In the first few days after a virtual event, email your event contacts with thank-yous or requests for further conversation, send connection requests on LinkedIn and cross-reference your notes from the event to ensure you set up intended meetings or calls.
Likewise, check your own email regularly for any incoming requests from people trying to connect to you, paying special attention to your spam folder so you don’t miss anything.
(P.S.: Many virtual events establish social media communities for attendees to gather and continue the discussion following the event. So if you weren’t able to talk to someone important on the event day, you can circle back to that community for another shot.)
Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies use virtual events to drive business results? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
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