How do you successfully network during a global pandemic?
Amid Covid-19, entrepreneurs have swapped in-person networking nights for virtual events. But as the pandemic continues, the concept of “remote networking” reveals its own series of hurdles.
In many ways, remote networking appears to have more advantages than traditional networking. Entrepreneurs have the ability to instantly connect with people from all over the world and reach a wider audience.
However, this convenience is coupled with the struggle to make a lasting connection. Entrepreneurs are trying to avoid falling victim to Zoom fatigue and make the kind of meaningful impressions that seem to exist primarily with in-person interactions.
It all boils down to a not-so-secret revelation: Networking, whether it is done virtually or in-person, needs plenty of effort, energy and enthusiasm.
Feeling stuck right about now? Try one of these approaches to up your networking game.
1. Send Virtual High Fives
Caryn Clopton is the owner of Excel Cleaning Services, an office cleaning company in Nashville, Tennessee. Early into the pandemic, Clopton quickly discovered which networking approach doesn’t work: the video conference lunch.
“I had the bright idea to send a client lunch and we would do lunch over a video conference,” Clopton recalls.
What seemed like a good idea on paper didn’t pan out in reality. The driver got lost trying to find the client and the lunch was scraped.
What does work, especially when networking with individuals you haven’t seen before, is simply sharing a moment of celebration — a “virtual high five.” If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s a nice touch to lift spirits and moods.
“I will call or leave a voicemail with teaming partners I haven’t seen before saying ‘I wanted to reach out and send you a virtual high five,'” Clopton says. “That has been a real winner.”
2. Show Up
One of the best techniques for virtual networking is the same rule of thumb network attendees would follow in a traditional setting. You gotta show up!
Speaking coach Vivian Geffen thinks that virtual networking via online meetings has been fantastic when it comes to increasing an entrepreneur’s amount of exposure to their audience. But what Geffen finds doesn’t work is passively posting on social media in the hopes of being found. That behavior is on par with attending a networking night and refusing to walk away from the wallpaper. If you attend a remote networking event, get ready to mingle and bring along your personality.
“Show up to groups consistently,” Geffen says. “Be friendly, have a clear and concise intro, and be supportive of fellow members when getting to know what they do.”
3. Connect 1-On-1 — and Face-to-Face
Showing up to networking nights isn’t easy for everyone. Sometimes being in a networking group that is too big can have the opposite effect on attendees. They may feel more inclined to leave early or find it’s difficult to make meaningful connections in the crowd.
Leadership coach Stephanie Thoma says now is the best time to aim for quality over quantity. Instead of attending a virtual networking meeting where the crowd constantly changes or the event goes on for too long, seek out 1-on-1 meetings with new connections — or existing connections that you’ve noticed are doing interesting things.
When possible, try to meet face-to-face or via FaceTime (or Zoom or Google Meet or whatever your preference). Granted, this would be slightly more difficult to manage in a public setting where masks are worn. However, a mask isn’t mandatory during a video call. Thoma notes this gives us the opportunity to make a deeper connection because we’re better able to pick up on body language cues.
In a 2020 study from Finland’s Tampere University, research uncovered that while video calls cannot replace in-person contact we do have a physical reaction to eye contact. The presentation of the person on video, and seeing their direct gaze, elicits subtle facial reactions of smiling, according to one of the authors of the study Jonne Hietanen.
“Body language still exists online, although not in the same way as it did in-person,” Thoma says. She advises being patient if someone does not respond to your networking request immediately. “People are just as social as before, however, we are shifting the way that we meet that fundamental need right now.”
In addition to aiming for quality over quantity, Thoma has an extra tip for how to keep virtual networking attendees present until the end of the event. Let them know a surprise awaits before the event ends.
“Incentives for those that stay until the end helps increase the engagement of virtual events,” Thoma says. “If there’s a freebie or juicy nugget of wisdom waiting at the end of the hour, people are more likely to show up and engage.”
4. Always Follow Up
Just like IRL (in real life), remember to follow up post-networking event, too. According to Geffen, one must successfully balance attending meetings with doing the necessary footwork once they end.
Following up might have been slightly easier to do in a pre-Covid world where you could refer back to traditional business cards as a means of remembering each connection’s name and business — but even in the before time, networkers were moving toward online contacts.
So just remember: Gather the proper contact information from the connections made during remote networking events. Reach out on platforms like LinkedIn or call the number they provided — and send along a virtual high five to cement the connection together.
[Related: More Expert Advice From Deborah Sweeney]
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.