Virtual meetings have exploded this year, and like any new way of doing things, they have resulted in their share of mishaps and bloopers. Virtual networking meetings are no different, so we have put together these tips for avoiding stress and finding success with virtual networking.
1) Prepare. When you don’t have to get in your vehicle and drive to a networking meeting, it can feel like you don’t have to do any preparation. But most of the prep for an in-person meeting still applies:
- Grooming matters. Especially if you haven’t been in the office or on video meetings earlier in the day, you’ll need time to consider your appearance. Remember, looking professional not only improves others’ impressions of you, but also helps you feel confident.
- Give yourself “travel time.” Making sure people and tasks are squared away to give yourself an hour of uninterrupted focus can be a challenge right now. Even if you already have the hang of creating that space for yourself, it is a good idea to give yourself buffer time for dealing with technical issues, finding meeting invite links, making sure you have good lighting and a professional-looking background, and taking a deep breath so you can be present.
- Have what you need with you. Water is surprisingly important for video calls—your throat can get dry even if you don’t realize you are nervous about speaking. You also need a way to take notes that is not the device you are using for the video call, so that taking notes is a way to stay engaged, not a disruption of your ability to see the meeting.
2) Be considerate and aware. In a restaurant or conference room, we know instinctively that other people can see and hear us, and we behave accordingly. Sometimes the sensation of being physically alone that comes from being behind a screen can make us forget that we are still audible and visible, with consequences that range from mildly annoying to massively embarrassing.
A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t do something at an in-person meeting, don’t do it on a video meeting. However, there are some special considerations to apply to video networking:
- Mute yourself on large meetings, when you aren’t part of the current conversation, or any time you have background noise. You wouldn’t bring your neighbor’s barking dog into a conference room, so don’t bring him into a videoconference. And while we do eat lunch at in-person WIN meetings, we don’t chew when we are at the microphone; so even if you are on a meeting where eating is appropriate, make sure to mute before you eat.
- Consider your background, and who or what might show up there unexpectedly. Just as you wouldn’t wander around the room during an in-person presentation, try to pick a place for yourself and stay there. And if you have to take a restroom break, just quietly leave your seat.
- Use chat effectively and considerately. The larger the meeting, the more careful we need to be about avoiding audio chatter, and the chat feature can help with that. If you have a relevant resource to share with everyone, drop it into the chat box. Direct messages are appropriate if you have a short side note for a particular person, but don’t carry on a conversation that distracts you both from the meeting. Instead, make a note and suggest scheduling a one-on-one.
3) Be present. The meeting hosts and speaker have taken time out of their day, and often a great deal of preparation time, to put a networking meeting together. Not only do you show respect for them by being engaged, but you also get more from the meeting by paying attention, and you demonstrate to other attendees that you are attentive and respectful.
To help you stay present:
- Take notes. This helps you stay engaged, and taking notes about important ideas helps your brain integrate them. Plus, you want to remember who to contact for one-on-ones after the meeting.
- Focus on others. Have you ever felt distracted by a mirror across the room at an event? Your video feed is a constant mirror right in front of you, pulling you out of presence and into self-consciousness—something many of us struggle with anyway. Consider hiding your own video feed if the platform has that capability, or just covering it with a sticky note. This will help you express yourself more naturally and focus on engaging with others, the way you do spontaneously when you can’t see yourself at in-person events.
4) Follow up. Just as with in-person networking, followup is the key to the whole enterprise. Set aside some time after the meeting to reach out and schedule one-on-ones, thank the speaker if there is something you especially appreciated about their presentation, and look into any helpful resources mentioned in the meeting. Your followup time can be directly after the meeting, or anytime in the next week; just make sure you schedule it, so that you don’t find yourself buying your ticket for the next meeting without having followed up.
What are your best tips for successful virtual networking?
Genet Jones, owner of The Thoughtful Wordsmith, has been writing for fun since 1989 and for profit since 2005. She also enjoys editing (yes, really), yoga, mountain biking, and exploring Northwest Arkansas.