August 17, 2020 5 min read

With today ‘s preventative realities settling in, the idea of networking in a socially distanced world feels like a math equation that just doesn’t add up. Suddenly that simple gesture of asking someone out for coffee is complicated, to say the least. Yet it doesn’t mean that networking is off the table. Staying connected is now more important than ever. That’s exactly why online networking is flourishing and thriving thanks to technology and a good internet connection. With this dramatic change, some are feeling off their normal networking game. By understanding how online networking works and applying some networking tidbits from Javed S. Khan’s, Founder of EMpression: A Marketing Services Company and a highly-rated international speaker, you’ll find the motivation to not only network online but build genuine connections in the process.


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Finding A Socially Distanced Networking Event 

Young professional participating in video meeting.

Here’s the elephant in the room when it comes to networking: right now, we are all experiencing a socially distanced world which means the room is the elephant. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and of course, video chats (Zoom, Facebook, the list goes on). Many networking events have been pushed online and that might make some feel out of their element. It’s understandable: networking IRL (aka in real life) is overwhelming but networking in front of a computer? It doesn’t feel natural but once that video connection is set up, you’ll see that everyone is feeling the same.

The good news is that finding an online networking event is no different than Googling how to bring your calla lilies back to life. It’s a simple search away and many organizations have stepped up to bat to host virtual networking events, create online chats through social media or groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. If you don’t want to miss out on any occasion, setting up a Google alert or signing up for that organization’s newsletter will help you keep track of what’s upcoming and stay updated. 

A few other pros to online networking: distance is no longer a big factor so there’s potential to meet more professionals from all walks of life and industries. Plus, some online networking events are free to attend and who doesn’t like free? The online networking opportunities are endless. Besides, getting used to virtual events will only help you in the long run especially with the possibility that they’ll become the norm.

Shifting Your Approach to Online Networking

Quote: Don't think about an agenda. Don't think about what sell  can I make. Think about the conversation. Think about a relationship you're building.

So, you’ve found the online networking event of your dreams. Now what? Dress code, of course! With video conferences, the dress code is all about finding that medium: full suit is too much, and pyjama bottoms are too little. Now it’s time for what Javed calls is a shift of attitude and approach. Your goal is to connect with others so you can begin to cultivate relationships that are supportive and genuine. The only way to do that is by showing up and being yourself, no matter what you’re wearing. You’re there to not just talk about yourself, but to learn from others.

Video Conferencing Etiquette

Being a successful networker in an online setting is a mix of listening and engaging behaviour – sounds tricky, right? Here are a few of Javed’s networking tips that’ll help you find that balance.

  • Confirm and clarify: After someone has finished speaking, this tactic allows you to respond in a manner that reflects that you were actively listening. Plus, it makes sure you didn’t get your wires crossed with anything that was said or missed during that internet connection blip. In a video conference, it may be hard to do this without interrupting someone who is speaking so instead try the confirming and clarifying tactic through the video’s chat. That way, there’s no interruption and you may have done everyone else a favour by summarizing what’s just been said or asking for further clarification.
    Smiling young professional on the phone in front of laptop.
    • Be open-minded: Avoid what Javed calls are the two ‘J’s– judge and justify. Everyone has the right to speak and if what they’re saying isn’t your cup of tea, don’t judge them for it on the spot, or justify their behaviour with assumptions. Let them speak, Javed reminds us, and be open-minded. They might surprise you.
    • Art of mirroring: Javed wasn’t talking about video background settings here but that is a nice touch if you want to be creative. Mirroring is all about body language and that translates across the lens. If someone is speaking, nod along to show you’re listening rather than remain a blank slate. Be animated, but definitely don’t be a mime.
    • Don't assume, ever: Looking at all those square boxes, you might be tempted to make assumptions of your fellow attendees. Whether they’re there for information, job opportunities or simply good conversations, that’s not up to you to figure out. No one wants to feel like they’re being used so keep your assumptions to yourself.

    Practice Staying Connected & Following Through

    After an online networking event is where the real work begins to stay connected. Remember how you had a great conversation with persons A, B and C? If you got their name, it’s time to make them a LinkedIn connection. Remember to send out a personalized note to them to remind them who you are so you aren’t lost in their requests stream. At your next online networking event, if the conversation is going well, step it up by asking them if they’d like to be connected with you via LinkedIn. That way, they know the invite is coming and you’ll have a note of their name with no spelling errors.

    Need some help navigating LinkedIn? In case you missed it, we’ve rounded up some tips here: How Your LinkedIn Profile Is Your Networking Playground: The Power Of Social Reciprocity, Online Etiquette And So Much More.

    Javed also mentions to follow through in a timely fashion and we couldn’t agree more. Don’t become too distracted throughout the event by trying to find them on their social channels or LinkedIn profiles right there and then. Take note of those for later so you’re focused on the conversation and the connection at hand. Set aside a time after the event, no more than 48 hours, to follow up with them.

    A latte cup beside a laptop.

    Last but not least, continue to foster those connections by checking in from time to time. Javed recommends not always making it about business – ask them about their new pet, project or whatever else you remember from your previous conversations. Send a LinkedIn message or an email and if you’re comfortable, a video coffee chat (no more complications!) It’ll get easier with each interaction as you’ll be more familiar with them thanks to your efforts.

    It’s up to you to make sure attending an online networking event isn’t a one-hit-wonder. With social distancing precautions in place, online networking is the everyday way to make connections. By putting yourself out there in the virtual space and practicing these effective ways of following through, it’s now a matter of rinse and repeat. Online or offline, networking is a long game and you’re here to play strong despite the odds.

     


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