In our current reality, many of us are finding ourselves in virtual networking situations (or just virtual business situations!). In this week’s Rainmaking Recommendations post, expert and trainer, Jaimie Field, has some best practices for us on how to make the most of these.

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Lately, I have been attending a lot of virtual networking events.  And while there are many platforms out there that can be used, Zoom seems to be the one used most often, so like using the words Google to mean search engine,  Kleenex to represent tissues, or Band-Aid to denote bandages, I am using Zoom to indicate all virtual networking platforms.

If you have not yet attended a virtual networking event, many are being run very much like an IRL (in real life) networking event without the handshaking or the fear of sitting too close to someone and catching a deadly virus.
When you first log into the Zoom meeting, and after many people arrive the host will create a “break the ice” question and then create small breakout rooms using a random generator to put you into one and for 15 minutes or so you can meet and have a conversation with a much smaller group of people – usually 4-6 who talk about their work and to whom they wish to be referred.   Instead of collecting business cards, in many instances, you are going to get a list of the participants’ contact information after the “event”.

Considering that it may be quite a while before we resume IRL networking events and conferences, how can you make the most of these Zoom gatherings to continue to build your book of business?

  1. Please find a location where you will not be disturbed:

During this time of family and pet togetherness (my very positive way of saying working from home with all of the kids, your spouse, and pets), you need to find a space in your home in which you will not be disturbed. At least during the time you are in the event. You are still trying to be professional and meet others.

However, sometimes a family member may disturb your “meeting” or a pet may climb into your lap. Please do not be embarrassed. It has happened more times during this weird time in our history and unless you live alone, it will eventually happen to you.

Also, please be mindful of background noise. You may need to keep muting and unmuting your microphone to keep that from being annoying to others.

  1. Dress for the Event

While I cannot believe it needs to be said – please put on some clothes.

Now while I don’t believe you have to dress in a suit for these events, you should look clean and professional and have on pants!! Yes, it is tempting to only dress from the waist up and wear pajamas or sweats or even just your underwear, there are 4 million results on Google showing you why you shouldn’t do so (just search Zoom fails if you want a laugh).

And while not a subject for this post, if you are conducting Zoom Legal Trials, please act as if you were in the courtroom, in front of the judge and jury and dress like you are so doing. Law.com reported the other day on a Broward County (FLA) judge who had to admonish the lawyers for some of the inappropriate actions that were taking place during a virtual trial (please read for what not to do!).

  1. Show up on time (or even early):

This is something I advocate for IRL networking, but concerning virtual networking, it is even more important.  It is distracting to have someone enter a conversation in the middle of a virtual event, as opposed to a live networking event, and should be avoided at all costs.

And, if you have to leave early, you can just make mention that you have an appointment that you have to attend to and thank everyone who was there.  You can send a note to the host using the chat feature.  Or, you can just leave quietly.

  1. Please pay attention to the person speaking:

It is very easy to get distracted on Zoom with the other things in your home/office.  I have seen people on their cell phones while in a virtual networking event and, like real-life networking, this is rude.  What most attendees do is mute themselves while they conduct other business. However, think about it this way, if you were at an in-person networking event and someone answered the phone while in a group conversation with you, would you get annoyed?  I would.  And if I had to take a call for some reason, I would excuse myself and walk away from the group.

Instead, if you must take that call, take a moment to excuse yourself and not only mute yourself (and make sure of this – again, Google Zoom fails), but also turn off your camera.   You will not be a distraction to others while you are on the phone.

However, if you are committed to being at that virtual networking event, then give it all of your attention.

  1. Be On-Camera:

Speaking of cameras, please do not participate in a zoom networking event without being able to have a camera available. That black square with your name will not allow others to see who you are. It would be the equivalent to going to an in-person event and wearing a paper bag over your head. People would like to see who you are.

Also, make sure that you are well lit when you are on camera. Too many people are on camera with the light behind them and you cannot see their faces clearly. A light should be in front of you.

  1. Allow everyone the opportunity to speak:

In the breakout sessions and then back in the main “room”, there is always that one or two people who are constantly talking (and I’ll admit it is sometimes me).  One of the problems is that when no one is speaking at that moment, it seems the quiet is amplified and someone tries to fill it.  Not every moment needs to be filled with noise.

However, if someone is on the zoom call and is silent the entire time, then you should try to coax them to become more involved.   Like all networking, ask them questions.  Find out who their ideal clients are; ask them about being at home all of this time; ask them what they are looking forward to when they feel more comfortable venturing out, etc.

  1. Take Notes:

One of my favorite hints during in-person events is to carry a pen and then write a few notes on the back of the business card of the person whom you just met to remind you about what you spoke about. In this instance, you can take contemporaneous notes so that you can find that person online and connect with them after the event and before taking the conversation into a one-on-one situation (whether by telephone or Zoom call).

  1. Follow Up:

Like all networking, “the fortune is in the follow-up.”    Again, connect with the person on social media; send an email to say it was nice to meet them; schedule another time to “meet” with them individually, like a virtual coffee.

We don’t know when in-person networking will resume or even if you will feel safe (from a health standpoint) going to live events and conferences.  But now that virtual networking is becoming a norm, I do not think they will end when the world fully reopens.  Start getting comfortable with attending these networking events and find the ones that your ideal clients and prospects are also joining.

As I’ve said in a few Rainmaking Recommendations,  there are no marketing and business development tactics that cannot be done virtually.  So don’t use the excuse that you can’t go to an in-person networking event as a reason not to network these days.