We’ve talked about the importance of networking with others, and three benefits of networking can increase revenue; now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of making a positive and impactful impression as a small business owner at online networking events.
Why online specifically? Well, even as the severity of the pandemic lessens as time goes on, some people may still want to keep certain events online due to safety concerns. Other networking groups may feel that the ROI is higher, due to reduced costs associated with online networking vs. in-person events. (Zoom is far more cost-effective when you factor in rental space, food, and staffing needs.)
Whatever the reasons, online networking events are here to stay, and you need to be confident that you can present yourself just as well at virtual events as you can in-person. Let’s dive in.
Networking at online events can be intimidating. It’s one thing to walk into a crowded room of people you don’t know. It is quite another to attend a virtual networking event where all your faces are crammed together like the Brady Bunch opening and you can feel everyone’s awkwardness rising during moments of silence. How do you prepare yourself for an online networking event when there is no opportunity to “find the bar” and make networking easier on yourself?
The first step is reminding yourself of why you are networking. This is true of any event, virtual or in-person, and there are many good reasons for networking. It is an opportunity to expand your inner circle of business contacts. It is a way to make business connections with leaders in your industry. It can serve as a brainstorming group when you are faced with a particular challenge. It can also serve as inspiration, learning from how others have faced challenges or cheering them on in their success. Whatever your reason, remind yourself of the positive benefits of being involved in virtual events with your small business networking group.
The second step, remember that everyone involved probably feels the same way you do. Attending virtual events and participating in online networking is hard; even seasoned pros can feel that little ping of nervousness as they are waiting for the online event to start. But also remember that everyone is eager to be part of a community, and everyone wants to meet you. Think about how you can be a connector or a welcoming face to newcomers at the event. This can be as simple as sending a quick welcome message to a new member after they log on, or encouraging your networking group to make time for new members to introduce themselves during the event. When you put the focus on others rather than on yourself, that is often enough to dispel any lingering feelings of discomfort.
The final step is to get comfortable. No, seriously. I mean it. Wherever you are logging in to the virtual event from, make sure that you are both comfortable and dressed comfortably. Now this obviously doesn’t mean logging in from bed or wearing a full sweatsuit. But if your physical space is comfortable then you will be more at ease during the event. Set up a good chair in an area that has natural light. Make sure you have a notebook, pen, and glass of water within reach. And wear something that makes you feel good while being appropriately professional, like a structured blazer or sweater in an eye-catching color. Remember: physical comfort = emotional comfort.
Identify Your Goal
Before you attend an online networking event, think about one or two goals you would like to accomplish as a result. This doesn’t have to be complicated, rather, it should be a small goal or task that is achievable given the time frame or focus of the online event. The point of having a goal is to focus your intention and give you an opportunity for increased participation at your networking event. A goal or event strategy takes you from “Oh, it’s probably a good idea to attend ABC Zoom event,” to “attending this event will be a successful and valuable opportunity if I can use it to accomplish XYZ.”
One goal could be to speak up more during your virtual events. Maybe you are personally getting a lot out of your networking group, but you’re not making meaningful professional connections that will positively impact your small business. Giving yourself the goal of speaking up more, whether in a breakout session or to the group as a whole, will help you build both confidence and recognition with event attendees. Be bold in asking questions and sharing your business experience as opportunities arise during the online event. But also remember to practice active listening so that when you do speak up it is relevant and helps to steer the conversation forward.
Maybe you are facing a specific challenge in your business. Use the appropriate time to pose your challenge or question to the group. You could do this in a break-out session or in the comment box when the moderator asks for questions. Use your network to get fresh ideas and new strategies for taking on your specific challenge head-on. You’ll raise your visibility within the group, you may discover creative solutions to your problem, or it may spark a constructive conversation that can help other entrepreneurs.
Another goal could be to have 1-2 follow-up calls with people in your networking group, to help you expand the inner circle of your network. Having that internal goal can help you thoughtfully identify the right people at the online event, and give the added challenge of making intentional time to follow up with them afterwards.
Whatever your goal is, having a focus or a concrete action in mind can help you present yourself better at online networking events.
Post-event follow-up is the final piece of absolutely nailing your virtual events. If you connected with someone in a break-out room, or you’d like to ask a follow-up question of someone who got cut short due to time constraints, reach out with an email a day or two after the event. Building genuine relationships with people takes both intention and follow-through. A personal note telling someone that you enjoyed connecting with them, or suggesting a coffee meeting so you can continue a fascinating conversation that got cut short, can be enough to encourage someone to continue building their relationship with you outside of the virtual space.
You can also follow-up with the networking organizer. A simple email or, better yet, a hand-written thank you card can mean the world to someone. They took the time to create this networking opportunity and they would probably love to receive thanks for their efforts. It will take very little time on your part, while also setting you reinforcing your personal brand as a thoughtful and engaged member of the network.
For more ideas, this Science of People article has a great list of ways to help you nail your online networking outside of small business events and check out our frequently asked questions below for quick answers about online events.
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What is the purpose of online networking events?
An online networking event brings together a group of individuals who are connected through their industry. It is an opportunity to grow your business network and create meaningful relationships with other business owners.
Are online networking events really that valuable?
Yes! They are a way to get to know others in your community and industry, they can help you raise awareness about your brand and services, and they can introduce you to new people, resources, and ideas that can help you become an even better business owner.
How do I nail an online networking event?
Remind yourself of your “why” or your purpose for being involved in your networking group. Set a goal for yourself of one or two actions that you’d like to take so that you can come away from the event with a new connection, an answer to a problem you’ve been having, or a list of resources that can help you be a better business owner. Finally, be comfortable and be yourself. Reach out to others authentically, both during and after the event. Good luck! We know you’re going to nail it.
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