Networking Via Virtual Conferences

Virtual Conference Lobby

Background

Networking has traditionally been something that needs to be done on the ground. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown a wrench into all that among other things. Like me, you’re probably wondering what it’s like to do networking via virtual conferences?

As a freelancer I get most of my business from networking at conferences. Therefore, I am motivated on a survival level to see if the value of conference networking can be recreated virtually.

My first successful virtual networking experience was via QuickBase’s 2020 Empower Conference. I was specifically looking to experience the networking component as I’ve attended virtual networking in prior conferences and it was a failure. In those instances, the software was not ready for virtual conferences.

Networking Via Virtual Conferences – How It Worked

QuickBase utilized the 6Connex Virtual Event Software. Networking was via Breakout sessions. The participant was given a list of networking subjects to choose from. QuickBase is a low-code platform marketing to the economy as a whole. Subjects included: “manufacturing”, “small business”, “not-for-profit”, etc.

After selecting the subject, the participant was then asked to register their name and email address for a Zoom meeting. Once this was done, the participant was given a Zoom meeting URL. When fully connected to Zoom, the participant briefly met with the conference organizer panel that was assigned to that subject. The panel then randomly assigned the subject to a micro-breakout session of 4-6 people.

The micro-breakout networking ended abruptly at the allocated time. If anybody was mid-sentence they were cutoff. The panel organizers followed the micro-breakout by addressing everybody in the larger audience (~45 people) as a wrap-up and terminated the session.

I arrived late, due to work commitments, so presumably the panel organizers prefaced the subject before assigning people to micro-breakouts.

Lessons Learned

  1. Prepare your workspace for remote working. I wrote a tips article on this subject: https://www.textor.ca/preparing-for-remote-working/
  2. If you know before-hand what the conference is using for video conference software, try to pre-install it. Zoom is very popular though, I suggest having it pre-installed either way: https://zoom.us/download
  3. Test audio and video prior to joining if possible or given the opportunity to do so.
  4. Be ready to video conference.
    • Wear clothes as if you were going into an office.
    • Make sure the background behind you is tidy.
    • Avoid use of virtual backgrounds. In my experience as a public speaker and having been given feedback, they are distracting as they do not work that well. This experience has been consistent over many types of webcams and video conference platforms.
    • Enabling video adds to your perceived level of professionalism. Many folks may not enable their video and that’s ok. But if you want to display professionalism, start with your video on when networking via virtual conferences.
  5. Be familiar with how to mute and unmute. It’s best practice to mute when you are not talking and unmute when talking. I can’t stress this enough and if you only make one thing a habit when working remotely it is this.
  6. Be prepared to take notes. This helps you follow the conversation and ask interesting questions during the networking session. This is something we may not have the opportunity to do in real life, so take advantage of it. I’ve used this technique when publicly speaking on panels and it has noticeably improved my performance over those panelist who do not do this.
  7. Write all the people’s names down in order to follow-up via chat post-call if necessary. The conference usually has a directory so you may be able to track them down to follow-up on conversation items and/or exchange business cards (virtually of course).
  8. Keep to the schedule. Look for an opportunity to ask if there is an interest in swapping contact info. Leave this no later than 5-7 minutes before the scheduled end if possible.

Conclusion

Honestly, the hard stop was frustrating but I can see the value of having this power to “pull the plug” from a conference organizer’s perspective. Clearly, it will take some getting used to networking via virtual conferences. But I see that it can be effective.

I’d like to hear from other’s experiences. What do you think?

About the Author

An avid writer, Trevor Textor has been quoted by Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Reviews.com and MarketWatch.com among others. As a freelancer Trevor has a “swiss army skillset” and has proven able to successfully assist many small, medium and large businesses in most areas of their business. Ask Trevor if he can help: https://www.textor.ca/contactme/.