In these days of self-quarantine and video meetings, it can sometimes feel like meeting new people, or talking to someone outside of your household for any length of time is close to impossible. But life goes on and our professional futures remain as important as ever. Luckily, networking doesn’t have to wait until that day in the distance where we can all gather, and safely talk face-to-face. Groups like the Young Women’s Alliance have proven over the last few months that virtual networking is not just possible, but effective and enjoyable.
Is virtual networking really any good?
Even after all these months of social distancing, virtual networking may still sound pretty… meh, to you. I’m willing to bet though: if you try it, you’ll like it.
For one thing, it’s easier. Logging in virtually means that: a) you cut out travel time, b) you have more location options – both where the people you’re meeting with are, and where you choose to settle down to join in yourself; and c) prep is easier; no searching for extra business cards to bring, no rushing to change your outfit…and as Tina Cannon recently taught us during her October Speaker Series, you can even fake having done your makeup with zoom filters (minds were blown that day).
It can also help you to build your abilities in some new ways: with general professional communication, and with other forms of online networking, such as Linkedin. The professional networking website is growing steadily more popular, and more important both to the job search and maintaining your network. While you aren’t out meeting with clients, colleagues, and others, this can be even more valuable. Of course, websites like Linkedin don’t use video conferencing. Still, getting used to communicating and meeting more effectively in an online interface – plus adapting to big changes in general – are very useful skills to have.
And finally, when done right, the networking itself can truly be just as fun and effective as it would be at an in-person event (more on how YWA accomplishes that later)!
Networking for the nervous
Admittedly, while virtual networking can be great, it still isn’t the same as in-person interaction. If you’re outgoing and extroverted, if you already love networking, virtual is probably a placeholder. Good, but it’ll be great when it’s just a convenient option, and not the rule.
If you don’t feel so confident though? This period of virtual events may be the perfect place for you to increase your comfort level. First, there’s the sense of security added by being in your own space, behind your computer. In some cases, you may not even have to commit to the face-to-face part.
For the more introverted, like yours truly, virtual events are great. Especially with the setup that YWA has established, there are a few notable benefits. There’s no need to wander through a large group of people and seek out someone to talk to. You’re in the comfort of your chair, and are automatically placed with people to connect with. If you’re more comfortable interacting in smaller numbers, or not so fantastic at walking up to someone and starting a conversation out of nowhere: that’s no problem either. Breakout rooms usually include just 4-5 members, and you even get talking points if you want to use them. And if you could never imagine networking in person, but logged into a virtual event anyway? It’s your lucky day. You’re guaranteed to have someone to talk to without worrying about who, or how to begin.
How does YWA do it?
Our organizers have done a fantastic job of transitioning YWA events into virtual format this year, and member attendance reflects the success of their hard work.
YEA now holds the Speaker Series, town halls, and more via video-conferencing platform. But here’s the important part: we carefully plan and execute each event to maximize easy participation – and feel like the “real thing.”
Of course, you can put a webcam in front of a speaker, or screenshare a presentation, to one big group. That’s an excellent alternative to live events, but doesn’t necessarily make for the best networking. So in addition to this, YWA ensures that each event also has dedicated networking time. During this, attendees are placed at random in small breakout rooms. These rooms allow you to meet members you may not have interacted with before. They create space for everyone to have the chance to speak and interact. Even better, they provide conversation starters every few minutes, in case anyone needs some help keeping the talk flowing smoothly.
When the networking time is almost up, you’ll get a warning – giving you time to exchange contact information or to finish up any notes, or just conversation. Then, you transition back into the larger group for the main event – where there is also, usually, time for question and answer sessions with the speaker and other attendees.
Knowing you’ll have not just the event you registered to attend, but dedicated time to network, as well as speakers and organizers who put great effort into including everyone and keeping things interactive, makes the process so much better.
Here are a few quick tips to help you make the most of your next virtual networking session.
Set the space
There is absolutely less prep work for a virtual event, but still some things you should do to make the most of it. Most importantly, make sure that wherever you’re logging in from has a steady internet (and power) connection, that your webcam and headphones are working, and that you’re in an environment that’s generally conducive to a video call. Is it quiet enough to hear and be heard? Is there enough lighting for people to see you? Will you be able to stay comfortably seated with your computer the entire time? Consider all these before your event begins.
Develop your elevator pitch
This one goes whether you’re networking virtually or not. Think about exactly what you want to share about yourself when introductions come around. Then, come up with a succinct and understandable way to communicate it. Think: if you had 30 seconds in an elevator to tell someone all about you, how would you do it? This ensures that you can feel present and calm when it’s your turn to introduce yourself, and that your message is perfected.
It’s hard to forget about the stressful reasons as to why we’re all having digital, rather than in-person meetings. Still it’s best to keep a positive attitude in the virtual networking sessions. This will help you focus on the actual purpose of the event. Just as importantly, it just may help bring everybody else’s mood up as well. Positivity is contagious, and it draws people towards you – exactly what you’re looking for when networking.