Hands up if you’ve been to a virtual networking event in the last few weeks with your slippers on?
Lockdown has meant we’ve all relaxed into a new routine of working from home. But this new reality, albeit temporary, also feels pretty alien. Handshakes, hugs and chit chat are out. Screen shots, thumbnails and slide sharing is in. ‘It’s networking Jim, but not as we know it!’
If, like us, you thought until recently that zoom was something a photographer did check out our 5 top tips for better online networking (with or without your slippers).
1. Prepare as if it were a face to face meeting
Just because you’re not leaving your house doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare as if you were heading off to a big meeting. Prep your introduction or any presentation you’re giving in advance and make sure you know what the format of the meeting is. Make sure you’ve got a drink to hand and use the loo before the meeting starts! Crucially, arrive a few minutes early (you’d be surprised how many people can be late to their spare room!).
2. Look the part
We’ve all enjoyed a more relaxed dress code whilst working from home but be careful not to allow that to transfer to online meetings and networking. You don’t have to be suited and booted to sit in the spare bedroom but be mindful that it is still your chance to make a great impression, instil confidence and show your ongoing professionalism. So, dress as you would if you went to a networking event (at the very least from the waist up), pop on your make up and dig out the hairbrush.
3. ‘It’s behind you!’
Given that most of us are working ‘make shift’ out of spare rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and a myriad of other places there’s definitely a more relaxed and accommodating vibe to online meetings. That said, it’s important to try and make as professional impression as you can.
Virtual backgrounds can be great but they can also look terrible if you don’t have the right background colour and keep disappearing into it. Equally, pretending you are swimming with Nemo or sitting on the moon might be funny but maybe keep it for family and friends.
Turn your camera on before the meeting and check what others can see behind you. A pop banner stand or similar can be really useful for adding a bit of branding to your backdrop whilst hiding piles of washing/kids toys/etc.
While we’re on the subject don’t forget to make sure the lighting and sound is right. A strong light behind you will make you appear dark on the screen so try to get the light in front of you and behind your camera. Test your audio in advance and, if you can, use an external microphone plugged into your laptop as you’ll sound much clearer. Finally, don’t sit too near or too far away from the screen. Again, check in advance to get the position just right.
4. Meeting etiquette still counts
Would you sit in a face to face networking meeting and respond to emails? I certainly hope not. Many people seem to think it’s ok to be doing other things whilst networking online. It’s not. It’s rude and it’s also pretty obvious.
We’ve all experienced (or been guilty of) distractions during online meetings. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable (kids appearing on screen is a good example) but we should try to behave respectfully to our fellow networkers. Not just because it’s courteous but because it also shows us in a more positive, professional light.
So, switch off your phone, turn off email and let others know you’re in a meeting. Then, make sure you engage with the conversation, listen and allow others to make their point, and be generous with your knowledge and experience. You’ll leave the meeting feeling like you got something out of it and your fellow networkers will remember you positively.
5. Stay engaged
Online networking definitely lacks the intimacy of face to face events. It’s harder to build rapport with someone when you can’t maintain eye contact, share a smile or have a chat before or after the meeting. Whilst it requires more effort, we’ve still seen some great new business opportunities develop in Opendoorz over the last few weeks. The trick is to stay fully engaged in your network, keeping others up to date and really listening to what’s going on with them.
Use this time to invest in being a valued contact, colleague and friend and it will pay dividends to your networking success. Keep in touch with connections and show a genuine interest in their positives, challenges and future plans. Finding out how businesses have adapted could throw up new ways to collaborate. Make sure to let people know where you can help and always do what you commit too.
Finally, whilst it’s important we share positives as they lift the spirits and provide a great shared learning for everyone, it must be done with empathy and an appreciation that it may not be the same for everyone. Bragging about how good things are right now could affect the mental wellbeing of others whose businesses are struggling. The ‘aren’t I fab’ show is never well received in networking and even less so right now.
Opendoorz builds relationships and creates opportunities so that businesses can succeed. We’ve worked hard to maintain that basic principle in an online format. Our members tell us how valuable they’ve found the continuing support of their Opendoorz network and our first virtual guest meetings in May were deemed a huge success.
Networking may have taken an unexpected turn but it’s still a crucial element of any marketing plan and now, more than ever, we all need to keep our feet on the marketing gas.
Why not join us at a guest event and find out just how well networking online can work?