A Guide to Virtual Networking Events

As a solopreneur or small entrepreneur, you know firsthand the importance of networking. In fact, pre-COVID-19 networking events may well have been a prime client-getter for you. But seven months after the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., much of the country remains in some degree of self-isolation and many businesses are still closed or operating on reduced-hours schedules. The fact is, we may not be back to doing traditional, in-person networking for a long time. 

Not to despair. Virtual elbow-rubbing may not be the same as meeting in-person and bonding over margaritas, but it can be nearly as effective for your business. Here we give our top five tips for both successfully hosting and attending virtual networking events. 

Invite right

If you think you’d like to host a virtual meet-and-greet, first consider your invite list. Rather than just blasting anyone and everyone you know who might have some relevance to your business, pick eight to ten people to ask (at least a few are likely to decline). When choosing, aim for a solid mix of friends and contacts. Ideally, the people you decide on will seem like they’d get something positive out of communicating, either on a business level or a personal one. If you can’t think of anything in particular that might connect those on the invite list, no worries; you may be all that’s needed for them to strike up a great conversation.

Make attendance easy 

Your invitees are more likely to dial into on and stay at your virtual event if joining is easy. Don’t make them work for it. Once you get a ‘yes’ from them, send a calendar invite to the event (it can be Zoom, Google Hangouts, Viber; whatever you like and find easy to use). That way it’s on their phone and in their email so they don’t have to write anything down or send themselves any reminders. Be sure to include any necessary passcodes or links in the calendar invite. 

Look for entries

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a virtual-networking-soirée invite, make the most of the event by seeking ‘entries’ into the conversation. Try to pay attention to what people are discussing. (If you attempt to multitask while on the call, you may miss a potential business opportunity.) Did someone bring up the difficulties of helping their kids with virtual school and trying to work at the same time? Perhaps you’re a fellow working parent with a school-aged child also doing e-learning, and you’ve picked up a few tips since March. Pipe up and offer these tips as a way to make your presence known and to build trust with people you may not know (but would like to know). 

Reach out

Say you’ve attended a virtual networking happy hour and ‘e-met’ someone you think could be a great contact for you. Rather than send them a LinkedIn invite, sans note, and hope they remember you and just accept, write them a personalized (but brief) email. If you hit it off with them during the event, you have a great ‘in’ — let them know you enjoyed chatting with them and would love to continue the conversation at a time and date in the near future convenient for them. 

If you didn’t actually interact on the video call, lead your note with mention of the event so they’re more likely to remember you. Then remember to give as much as you plan to take. 

“The big thing is to not use a script and to make sure to provide some kind of value to them,” Patti DeNucci, author of “The Intentional Networker,” told MEL Magazine recently. “Smart people can smell a looming sales pitch or the request for a favor from a mile away.” Maybe you heard them talking about scuba diving or being a World War II history buff. A book recommendation on these topics (for a book you’ve actually read) shows that you heard them on the call and share some of their interests. This will make a request for a call a bit further down the line seem less opportunistic.

Follow up

If you’re planning on hosting an event, remember not to just let the whole thing drop after the meet-up has ended. A few days after it, send a thank you note to follow up and recap what was discussed. Offer, too, to make introductions between people if there’s interest. Ask that they email you separately to request as much so that you’re not just giving out contact information that isn’t your own. You may help end up starting more than a few new business relationships.

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