How I Overcome The Dread Of Virtual Networking
As we eagerly wait for COVID-19 to become a thing of the past, we endure video call after video call. This is tough. We’ve all had a difficult year and with Christmas around the corner, we’re already burned out.
Building relationships via screen just isn’t the same as in person. But there are some advantages. With remote working now the norm, professionals have the opportunity to collaborate anywhere, anytime. As someone who has juggled working from Texas, the UK and Mexico this year, I thought it was worth sharing some ways I stay motivated.
I remember it takes more than one meeting
I look back at the projects I’ve won this year, and at least half of them stem from contacts I made online (that’s right — I’ve never met them in person!). However, it hasn’t been easy; they’ve come from putting in the time. As with online dating (I met my partner James on Bumble!), I like to identify people I have chemistry with, follow up with a few more meetings, and then see where the relationship goes. Luckily, from hundreds of calls, I’ve met several solid gold CEOs that have opened doors to fantastic opportunities — either with them directly or with someone they know.
I make sure I have the right frame of mind
We’ve all gone through a lot this year.
And while it may feel important to keep up appearances, there’s no point joining online events if you don’t have the energy to give.
There have been several meetups in which my contribution has been lacklustre. Oftentimes, I’ve felt like virtual networking is a waste of time. BUT all it takes is one or two killer meetings and a new project to land — then I remember why I love my job in the first place.
I scope out who’s attending in advance
When I sign up for online events, I try to sneak a peek at attendees in advance.
There’s nothing wrong with zeroing in on someone influential or important you’d like to meet!
During the event, if for whatever reason I don’t get the chance to connect, I send them a request via LinkedIn with a non-spammy personalized note — or I ask the moderator to facilitate an introduction.
I set myself KPIs
It’s easy to get swept from one Zoom room to another yet wonder what progress you’ve made at the end of the day.
To give myself a sense of achievement, I approach virtual networking like a game of bingo.
Before the meeting, I write down what I want to get out of the event, such as:
- connect with a key decision-maker in <?> role/industry
- ask if anyone knows anything about <?>
- see who has experience with <?>
- find someone who can tactfully get me involved with <?>.
During the meeting, I do my best to tick these boxes (politely, of course!) — then afterwards, I can follow up certain people with purpose.
I always read the “room”
It’s important to be sensitive to how others may feel.
Since COVID, I’ve definitely observed that some people are more cautious than others about sharing where they’re at.
With this in mind, I do my best to be compassionate, apply active listening and watch for judgement or forced conversation. If someone is stuck in a rut, talking about pivots can make them feel like crap. Approaching conversation with emotional intelligence has given me the chance to connect with others on a more meaningful level.
I like to break the ice
Awkward silence in between small talk. IT’S THE WORST. Andrew Shearer from BravePath has a fantastic strategy: he purposely places Star Wars figurines in his Zoom background as a conversation starter! Likewise, Anna from Isabel (Anna Westbrook) features an unfinished puzzle in a frame that she can speak to as a symbol of her entrepreneurial journey.
My hacks aren’t quite as creative. Sometimes I wear a statement piece (such as a bold or bright necklace), that others might comment on. But this tactic isn’t always suited to all scenarios — it really depends on the group/vibe. I also use obvious body language and visual cues. I often raise my hand to indicate I’d like to say something. That was weird before, but it feels pretty normal now.
Another thing I like to do is try to uncover common ground by asking:
- “What were you most looking forward to getting out of this event?”
- “Is there anything you’re hoping to learn more about in this session?”
- “Did you have any questions in mind for the host or other attendees?”
- “I was wondering if anyone here knows anything about <?>?”
I also like to chit-chat about mutual interests that aren’t related to work. For example, I love all things snowboarding, scuba diving, tacos and travel. Finding similar pastimes is a great way to stand out.
I do my best to limit my screen time (HA!)
As someone trying to expand into a new city, virtual events have been great for meeting more people in less time.
But I’m 100% guilty of overdoing it. Networking can sometimes feel like an addiction that only a new sale can fix.
Now, rather than use my time poorly, I limit myself to 2–3 events per week and promise to meet the following criteria:
- Do I have a genuine interest in the topic (if there is a speaker)?
- Have I been to an event held by this group before, and did I enjoy it?
- Has anybody recommended this group to me before, or do I know anyone going?
- Can I identity at least a couple of attendees that have piqued my interest?
It’s better to know your limits and keep networking consistently, than to binge on events and have no time or energy left for follow-ups!
Happy networking everyone. I’d love to hear what strategies have worked for you! Feel free to comments below.
About the author: Natalie Khoo built her business in Australia off the back of the 2008 recession. Having made all the mistakes since day one, she’s passionate about sharing her learnings with other business owners on a similar journey. Natalie’s career highlights include taking a 3-month scuba diving vacation in 2019 and not checking her emails once. She travels between Melbourne, Australia, and Austin, Texas, with her partner James.