Networking at an online conference is a little different than meeting people at in-person conferences. OK, I admit, it's a lot different. But people are still people, they still want to meet you, and you still have opportunities to make career connections. We just have to be a little more creative and assertive in how we manage it.
Since the start of the pandemic, meetings, meetups, and conferences have transitioned to become online events. It took a little bit of a learning curve to make it as good as it has become, and we've done such a good job it doesn't look like online events will go away when the world's health stabilizes. So we must continue to learn, adapt, and grow to use online events to network effectively.
Networking (the “hallway track”) is one of the biggest challenges presented to attendees of online events — and it also holds the greatest value. If you can't sit down at a lunch table with someone, walk up to a vendor table, or bring yourself into a conversation in a real hallway, then how are you to meet people, forge friendships, and seek career connections?
All is not lost. I've reached out to the community for their advice, and I have a few ideas of my own to add, too.
Tips for Networking at an Online Conference
Networking at any conference is easier when you remember some key ways to connect. Finding a way to be memorable to others is the goal — especially if you're looking to advance your career.
1. Introduce Yourself
It may seem obvious, but it can be easy to join a conversation in the middle and forget to introduce yourself at some point. Before you even log on to the event, think about how you will introduce yourself. (This is especially important if you tend to be more introverted.)
Practice makes it a little easier to take that first step!
Create an elevator speech that you can use to introduce yourself and tell a little bit about who you are and what you do.
In an online networking event you can use this if the attendees are asked to introduce themselves, if you find a time to join the conversation, or if there's a break in the conversation where you can easily offer your information.
2. Ask Others to Introduce Themselves
Showing interest in others brings more to the conversation than your words can. Don't just focus on speaking up. Remember that most people like to share about themselves, so if you're the one asking about them, you'll be remembered as someone interested and interesting.
But remember to listen to the answer, too. If you ask someone about themselves and then mentally prepare what you're going to say next instead of listening, you can lose any momentum you gained in building that relationship.
So slow down! Be truly present and listen to others. Listening is not wasted time waiting to connect. It is connection. Listening also speaks — it says you care what someone else thinks and has to say. It shows respect. You can't fake it, so don't try.
3. Reach Out to Others Outside the Online Event
To be truly memorable and forge relationships, immediately follow your new connection on the proper social media channels — Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Consider it a digital handshake where you can continue conversations and connections post event.
4. Don't Try to Sell Yourself, Your Services, or Your Ideas Immediately
Networking is not cold calling — or even warm calling. Networking is about building connections and industry relationships. If you wouldn't propose marriage on a first date, then don't propose a work relationship in a first meeting, either. Take the time to get to know people and build from there.
5. Introduce Others to Your New Connections
I've found that being good at networking isn't only about who I can connect to and who connects to me. It is better when I can also be a conduit between others. Helping other people with their careers, businesses, and networking is fulfilling, but it also makes you a valuable resource to others — and that's one of the best outcomes of networking. You will be remembered if you sparked someone else's valued friendship or business association.
Tips from the Community
I reached out on Twitter and in Post Status Slack to ask others in the WordPress community for their networking tips for online conferences. Here's what they had to say:
- “Having a social media handle in your name or in your background is helpful. Good lighting goes a long way. Immediately follow up with attendees on LinkedIn or Twitter and say hi.” — Jodie Fiorenza
- “Make it personal. Don't send the same scripted message to everyone when you connect. If you know or heard of a person already, mention it in the intro.” — Lax Mariappan
- “I find participating in chat, if there is one, to be pretty valuable. I also make it a habit to live tweet some parts of the event. That usually gets a good conversation going and I end up meeting new folks that I wouldn’t have crossed paths with before.” — Daniel Schutzsmith
- “Reach out one-to-one ahead of time to people you want to connect with.” — Mike Demo
- “Make sure you have either a proper photo of yourself or something equally recognizable as you, for times when you won't (or can't) have your video turned on.” — Christina Workman
- “Make sure to participate in and use the event's official hashtags. It's a great way to communicate and get to know your fellow attendees.” — Dave Amirault
- “Starting a conversation is the toughest thing. The best way is to “ask” a question about the person in question to break the ice and begin conversation.” — Davinder Singh Kainth
- “Most importantly, be a good listener.” — Bob Dunn
- “I like to follow people on LinkedIn who are active in chat or speaking. And always include a note about what they said. I feel it helps me listen more purposefully and stay connected through the event.” — Lindsey Miller
Have fun networking at your next online conference or event. Try out some of these tips. And let us know if you have more ideas about networking that work for you!
If you have questions about networking at online events, you can join us in Post Status Slack in the
#hr-talk channel. You can also reach out to me on Twitter where my DMs are always open, and I'm always happy to serve as a resource. —Michelle