How to Network When There Are No In-Person Networking Events
Due to the global pandemic, B2B networking is still mostly digital. But that doesn’t mean it has to be any less effective for your business.
After a year of Zoom calls wearing work-appropriate attire on camera while sitting comfortably in pajama bottoms and slippers, I’ve pretty much embraced the new remote-work paradigm as a part-time freelancer. My own productivity is up, I find it easier to manage my time, and coordinating with peers is often as easy as a quick text or email exchange. As an operations manager in my full-time gig, I generally source many of my sales leads and perform brand-building activities through social media platforms. Due to the lack of in-person events and social gatherings, however, the most challenging thing I have faced in both roles has been identifying effective networking opportunities.
That’s not to say that the opportunities to connect with others and build relationships at both a personal and organizational level aren’t out there. But even though it’s been a year of pandemic lockdown and we’re becoming more accustomed to navigating digitally, identifying high-quality and valuable online networking experiences can still be a fairly daunting undertaking. Today, we’re here to demystify the art of tracking down virtual networking events and learning the subtleties of how to network online.
How to Find Virtual Networking Events
Searching for online events isn’t so much a challenge of finding events—those can be found at volume and often complete with an excess of fanfare and distracting visuals. The challenge has more to do with finding where to look for high-quality and reputable events that you know will provide value. To that end, I suggest you focus your search efforts across three specific platforms: LinkedIn, Facebook, and EventBrite.
LinkedIn is a Treasure Trove of Networking Opportunities
Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, LinkedIn has emerged from the trenches of social media platforms as one of the best platforms to build and develop professional connections. Business owners, sales staff, and others have taken to LinkedIn with the purpose of sourcing leads and sales, but in the process have also created a powerful community focused on adding value to business relationships you won’t experience on any other platform. One tool that has improved exponentially and been embraced by professionals to the effect of providing tremendous added value to the user experience is the platform’s search function. Simply typing “Networking Events” along with industry-specific terms brings up not only registered scheduled events, but also courses on how to improve your networking skills, published articles on networking, groups that are focused on creating networking opportunities, and individuals involved in event planning. These are all amazing resources to discover opportunities to not only attend formal events, but to also informally network with peers and other professionals focused on improving your industry or who want to connect with businesses such as your own.
Facebook is a Useful Platform to Discover Networking Events
Businesses are becoming savvier to the value of advertising and promoting events on the Facebook platform, even though the platform is more for building interpersonal relationships away from work. If you’ve been hesitant as a business or a professional to attempt to network or create events on Facebook, you have to remember one of the primary tenets of advertising and building relationships with potential clients—you have to go to where the people are.
Considering how much time vast portions of the population spend navigating the infrastructure of Facebook, you’ll immediately see why searching out opportunities to network on Facebook is a valuable practice to get into the habit of. That being said, do your research before dedicating the time to attending a virtual event you see posted on Facebook, as the quality of the events you might find here varies tremendously. Reach out to the organizers, chat with others who are interested in the event, determine if the scope and subject matter of the event are really what you’re looking for, and that the potential networking opportunities are in line with what you’re looking to develop from the event.
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EventBrite and Other Networking-Focused Websites
The benefit you’ll find in searching through EventBrite and platforms like it on the web is that the website’s primary focus is on hosting and listing events. You won’t have to dig through social channels or make 20 connections to find an event that might be of value to you. Simply visiting the site, navigating to the search function, and looking for “business networking” opportunities, you’ll find a host of free and paid events focused on topics that will be relevant to your needs.
How to Effectively Network During a Virtual Event
Before logging into a virtual event, you want to take some of the same steps ahead of time that you would if you were attending a live, in-person event. Here are some best practices to keep you focused and on-task throughout the meeting.
Attend with Purpose
Don’t waste your time attending a virtual networking event out of boredom or just to find people to talk with or interact with. There are other channels for that purpose online, and there are so many opportunities to create value from a networking event that it’s important to go into the event with a purpose.
What are your goals for this event? Are you looking to make 5 contacts and convert 3 of them into potential leads? Do you want to identify individuals you could potentially partner with on a particular project you already have in the works? Are you trying to gather email addresses to increase the reach of your business’s mailing list?
Every conversation you have throughout the event, or every time someone introduces you to a colleague, your main goal is to focus on what you came here to accomplish without coming across as pushy or ingenuine.
Get a Sense of the Event Structure Ahead of Time
This is most important for virtual events, given the variety of formats and platforms that could be used to host the event. Are attendees going to be put into breakout sessions, or is everyone on one screen listening to a keynote speaker? Will the chat channel be your best method for making contact and talking with an attendee you want to connect with? Be ready to introduce yourself as part of a meet and greet session, with a short elevator pitch of who you are, your business, and the type of connection or referral you’re looking for as an attendee of this meeting. Your goal is to make the room work for you, so providing them with as much upfront guidance as to what you need is crucial for networking purposes. If given the chance at the end of the meeting, leave the room with a clear call to action geared towards your overall goal of attending.
Take Advantage of the Attendee Listing
Perhaps one of the most valuable pieces of information you can take away from the virtual event is an attendee list—better if the list includes contact information. You can use that tool to build connections and opportunities to network on other platforms away from the event. As an attendee of a common networking event, you can immediately establish your credentials and show your value to them through shared interests and experiences. Use that opportunity to write recommendations for those you’ve connected with and to leverage those connections into further relationships and expand your existing network even further.
Staying Positive and Finding Value in Virtual Network Events
Of course, we all miss the opportunity to attend in-person events and network with potential peers in new and exciting venues. But the pandemic has been going strong for a year now, and conditions are anticipated to continue throughout 2021 long enough that we need to remain positive and plan for an alternative approach to networking that will continue to provide value to our peers. Whether we’re meeting in person or remotely, we must remember that our goal is to build our businesses by helping others. We can’t provide that value if we’re focused on the challenges and the drawbacks of virtual networking. Instead, we have to remain in a positive, solutions-focused mindset and remember that B2B relationships are built on providing valuable solutions to the problems our clients face daily. Learning how to do that in a remote setting, you’re only setting yourself up for success in the future when you get to sit in the same room with those clients and see the tangible results of your efforts in helping them overcome those challenges.