Virtual networking etiquette and best practice
We’re all virtual these days – in our social lives, with our mobiles, laptops and smart TVs, and increasingly more so at work. The pandemic has forced many of us to work from home and get to grips with video calls and meetings.
Networking has also shifted online. Many of the usual opportunities to network face-to-face, such as conferences, training days and ACCA events, such as our virtual career fairs and global employability webinars, have been forced to run virtually.
With this in mind we asked some networking experts for their top tips on how to be an effective virtual networker.
Prepare in (nearly) the same way you would in person
‘This may sound obvious but ridiculous at the same time,’ said Marvin Reid, director of Volume 2 business consultants.
- Instead of business cards, have all of your social links written out and ready to copy into the chat. Also, use the correct hyperlinks so that people can just click through to your profile.
- Dresscode: In most cases virtual events are smart casual. However, have a corporate photo saved into your zoom account so that you can use that if you have to. If everyone turns up in suits, a corporate photo is a good option.
- Choose a comfortable chair and table arrangement.
- Check your camera and sound before hand, lighting is important but so is sound, so do a test run.
‘No one wants to see dirty plates by the sink or your laundry hanging up,’ said Natalie Trice, a PR coach and university lecturer. ‘Try to position your screen somewhere light, with as plain a background as possible and if this isn't achievable, you can buy green screens and use those instead.’
Strategy not technology
‘The main focus is strategy, not technology to make networking work,’ said Jon Baker, a coach specialising in introversion in business. ‘What's your networking objective (who, how many, value), who knows most of these people, focus your relationship building on a small number of these people.’
Nail your intro
‘Most networking groups will have a “Round Robin” type scenario where you can introduce yourself to the attendees,’ said Joanne Dewberry, a Sage Business Expert, blogger and author of Networking A Successful Small Business. ‘Be clear in your “hello my name is…”, what your small business is, what you have to offer and a call to action, avoid pompous industry based language. You can also use your background and surroundings to showcase your business or wear a branded t-shirt.’
‘I have been part of virtual networking groups during lockdown that have had a facilitator guiding the discussion and grouping people up,’ said Sally Prescott, leadership coach & founder of Zest for Life. ‘Without that, it can be very difficult for the conversation to flow and be productive, as even with video, you do use the body language cues in face-to-face networking that are somewhat lost in the new normal.’
Relationship building vs promoting
‘It’s about creating a relationship, not about what I can get from others or a direct sales pitch,’ said Prescott. ‘You have to show the same respect as you would if meeting someone face-to-face, so I wouldn’t recommend a “Hello X – I do Y, can you help me Z” as your opener…’
That being said, unlike face-to-face events, virtual events give you a great opportunity to market yourself or your business, said Reid. ‘So create a corporate virtual background (software like Canva is great for this) or simply use a banner behind you if you have one.’
Don't over sell
‘This applies virtually and in person,’ said Reid. ‘However, just because the event is not in person, people sometimes lose patience and try to skip to the selling. Remember, awkward silences are even more awkward virtually.’
Don't just make up the numbers
‘Ask for 1-2-1s discreetly in the chat if you didn't get to speak to the person you really wanted to,’ said Reid.
No one-size fits all
‘You may need to try out a few groups, various formats (some have reverted to informal chats, others still have a guest speaker and training sessions), genre-specific (networking with those in the same genre right now is paramount in overcoming Covid-19-related issues and understanding legislation), or maybe male or female only groups (some groups are aimed solely at women or men in business),’ said Dewberry. ‘Once you have found a networking group you enjoy, turn up, be consistent, really get to know the other attendees.’
Online is unlike face-to-face networking where you have the chance to speak to key individuals at the end, so following up is key, continued Dewberry. ‘Take the time to reconnect or reach out to other attendees on social media or email, keep conversations going and build those key relationships. There are a plethora of online resources making follow ups so much easier and gentler for those of us not keen on picking up the phone.’
Don't do too much!
‘Zoom fatigue is a real thing! Especially if you are not used to it, you will have been virtually speaking to people for the last 4 months straight which can be exhausting! Be selective,’ said Reid.
Volume 2’s virtual networking pros and challenges
- You can do more in less time
- Your reach is further
- You can meet more people in different circles
- You can promote your brand more effectively
- There is an easier gateway to social connections
- You need a computer
- You need a stable wifi connection
- You need a certain level of computer literacy
- It can get tiring (mentally)
- Its less personal