According to the "Post COVID-19: The event outlook report" 93% of conference organizers plan to hold virtual events. Most IT conferences have moved to the Internet. This has its advantages because now everyone can have access to globally recognized experts and industry leaders and gain new information and knowledge without leaving their home or office. However, there are elements of virtual events that pose a challenge. The most important is networking - establishing lasting relationships with other participants by exchanging experiences that can help in career or business development.
While we can't shake hands at an online conference, we can still make and develop business contacts. Here are some ways to make friends without meeting in person:
Let people know you'll be at the conference
The first thing to do after registering for a virtual event is to reach out to other people who will attend it. Share that you will be at the event on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. If you have a website, or you write on Medium, for example, share why you are going to the event and encourage others to get in touch with you.
Use the conference app
Remember the conference apps you used mostly to track the agenda? Well, most of them also allow you to create a personal profile and network with other attendees. Add your bio, contact details, and a professional photo to the app, so others can find and recognize you. Check the app's features - whether it has a chat, bulletin board, or an appointment-making option. Do this before the conference and start networking in advance.
Set yourself specific goals
Now, more than ever, it's important to have a plan. At a virtual conference, you won't run into anyone in line for coffee or lunch. Virtual networking requires more planning, but the upside is that you can spend more time interacting with others because you don't have to move around the venue.
Make a list of your networking goals. These can be general goals like "I will introduce myself to five new people" or "exchange emails with ten attendees", or more specific goals like "I will meet 3 people from XYZ company". Making a list will help you focus your activities and, in the end, evaluate how you used your conference time. Read the article with tips on how to prepare for a virtual conference.
Prepare your short description
You will probably meet many new people at the conference. You will be introducing yourself to each one. To save some time, write a short greeting containing basic information about you. Three sentences are enough. Use it at the beginning of a chat. You will start the conversation faster and be able to focus more on getting to know the other person.
Record a video greeting
Sit down in front of your computer use your phone, turn on your camera and record a short, 10-15 second video greeting in which you say what you do, how you can help other participants, and what topics you would like to talk about. Use the recording when you send out meeting invitations. You can post it as a private video on YouTube, or use other platforms such as Loom or Vidyard.
Prepare questions in advance
Think of a few questions to start the conversation with. Remember that open-ended questions tend to elicit the most insightful responses. For example, if you have nothing to talk about, asking "why" often makes people respond interesting ways and opens up new possibilities in the conversation.
Help others make connections
If in a conversation someone shares a challenge they are facing and you know someone who can help solve it, connect those people. Being helpful is extremely important right now and will get people thinking of you when a challenge you can help solve comes up.
Harness the power of social media
We, like many other conference organisers, use an official hashtag to mark all content related to the event. Ours is #itmtconf. During the previous edition of the IT Manager of Tomorrow conference, on LinkedIn alone, participants published a lots of posts tagged with it. Use hashtags when sharing information about your participation in the conference and your thoughts on the presentations. Use it in a search engine to find other people to follow. It is likely that everyone using the # will be open to making contact and having a conversation.
Participate in discussions
No matter what platform the conference is on, you will probably have a chat or discussion forum available. Make the most of them. Demonstrate your knowledge by commenting on presentations. Share your experience. Ask questions that other participants can answer. Do not overdo the intensity of your activity, though. Remember that during a presentation, participants are primarily focused on listening to the speaker. If you find someone's comments particularly interesting or practical, get back to them after the presentation by sending them a private message on the app or social media.
Share valuable content with others
When having discussions on the platform or in the application, share links to articles relevant to the topic at hand. Remember not to spam with sales or marketing content. The content you share does not have to be created by you or your company. As long as it adds value to the conversation, people will appreciate it.
If the event organiser provides a tool to connect people interested in specific topics, use it. Take the time to fill out your profile, so the system can connect you with people who can help you grow. If the event you're attending doesn't have this option, put a few sentences in your bio about what you're looking for and the professional contacts you want to make people feel more comfortable when they reach out to you.
Create your own materials and share them online
During presentations, take notes or even record a short video of yourself commenting on what you've learned. After the day at the conference or after the whole event, share them on LinkedIn, your website, or any other channels you use. While doing this, list and tag the people you listened to or talked to. Not only will this help you consolidate your learning, but it will also have a positive impact on your reputation and online visibility.
Stay in touch after the conference
Stay in touch with your new acquaintances while the event is still fresh in your mind. In the first three days after the virtual conference, it is a good idea to:
- send emails to people you met at the event thanking them or inviting them to heve further discussions
- send invitations on LinkedIn to other people who actively communicated their participation in the conference and whom you met during the conference
- offer to host a "coffee" meeting on Zoom or Teams to discuss the conference topics.
If you receive invitations to discuss by email or on LinkedIn, respond as quickly and regularly as possible. This way you can benefit from the positive energy of the conference.
Share your opinion about the event
Most event organisers ask for feedback after the event. Use this opportunity. Write a concise and specific review of the event. Be honest - organisers are not looking for praise, but for feedback to help them improve future events. By sharing a constructive opinion you'll get the organisers’ attention, and if you agree, your opinion may appear on the conference website. Also, share your opinion on LinkedIn - this can also be a good opportunity for discussions and relationship building.
If you plan to attend a virtual conference and networking event, take it seriously. Although many of us miss traditional events, you can make valuable professional contacts at those that take place online too. You can have fun, be positive, and still grow as a manager.