Virtual Networking 101
Much has been written of late about benefits and best practices of networking as a career-long lifestyle. Check out these recent articles on networking here and here. The challenge today is how to network effectively when you aren’t doing so in person and instead relying on virtual technology to connect you. Here are 18 terrific ideas to help you get the most out of networking virtually.
One: Use the Right Technology (platform, device, accessories, connection). The great thing about technology is that it’s always improving. Back in 2005 I beta-tested GoToMeeting service and fell in love with it. It’s still great today, having undergone hundreds of improvements. Then I discovered Zoom, fell in love with it, and now use both. Skype, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and a dozen others will work well.
- Choose the platform that gives you the features and quality you want. Most offer free trials so you can try them out before you buy. Some even have a light version for free that may suit your purposes.
- Next, chose the right device. Bigger screens are better because they allow you to see people’s faces and facial body language better. Smartphones will work in a pinch; I prefer my 15” laptop screen and/or a second larger screen.
- Next, be wise with accessories. After testing several headsets, from thin wire ones that work with a smartphone to ones worn by pilots, I settled on an over-the-ear stereo Logitech wireless Bluetooth headset with noise cancelling mic for about $50 (well worth it). Integrated laptop, tablet, and smartphone cameras are now capable of excellent HD video, so no need to use a separate camera (but you may need one for your desktop). The built-in mic and speaker in most mobile devices are simply inadequate and are prone to distortion, feedback, and inducing background noise into your session.
- Your connection is crucial. While wireless is convenient, multiple internet-sucking devices will compete for bandwidth which could affect how strong your connection will be. To get the best connection I opted for using a wired port and closing down unnecessary programs on my laptop.
Two: Select the Right Setting (background, noise, lighting, distractions). The setting you choose will impact your credibility while networking.
- What someone sees as a background beside and behind you as you’re on-screen communicates subliminal messages about your professionalism, organization, and gravitas. Some services offer the ability to create a virtual background which will replace a poor or inappropriate natural background (more on virtual backgrounds later).
- High ambient noise levels will be picked up, especially when using the integrated microphone in your device. A noise cancelling microphone will help, but may not completely eliminate noisy fans, background music, or the guy mowing the lawn next door.
- In video, lighting is everything. You want enough lighting so that your face is fully illuminated and absent shadows that make you look scary. This means multiple light sources. Use natural light plus overhead light wherever possible. Your camera should never face the light source. You’ll need to experiment with this and try several locations to find the best one.
- Finally, take steps to eliminate all distractions. Shut off noise-making devices and programs. I unplug the office phone and turn off my smartphone. Close off the room to keep others out (including Rover). Consider posting a do not disturb On the topic of distractions, monitor your own. Because people see your eyes, they’ll know immediately when you are distracted and not engaged.
Three: Be Clear About Your Purpose for Networking. If you go into networking with your primary motivation being to get something, you’ll probably fail. You’ll also turn off someone who could potentially help you. The best networkers engage in conversations to learn about other people and see where the conversation takes them. The best conversations are the let’s get to know each other better ones; the worst ones are when one person is trying to sell the other person from the start (like a hammer looking for a nail). Set clear expectations from the start and stick to them.
Four: Reach out to Strangers as Well as Acquaintances. LinkedIn is a great place to use InMail to suggest conversations with new connects and old. LinkedIn is the network; InMail’s the contact method; and networking is the activity. A perfect trio! I suggest sharing an agenda ahead of time to set expectations.
- For new connections, focus at least 55% of the conversation on what the other person does. Let him or her go first and use conversational questions to help get things started. Your primary objective: to build a relationship, affinity, and trust. NO selling!
- For people you do know, leverage existing relationship and continue building. Consider using probing questions to uncover their need areas and strengths, and they’ll be inclined to do the same. NO selling but be open to them wanting to explore buying.
Five: Take the Long View. It’s a combination of repeated touches over time that will work in your favor. Don’t place an alarm clock on expecting something to happen. Instead, let it develop and happen over time.
Six: Invest in the Future by Giving Something in Which You’re Expert, With No Strings Attached. Since I offer assessments as part of my coaching practice, I offer a complimentary assessment and debrief session, but with zero expectation of them wanting to buy. If you’re a marketing genius, perhaps a free audit of their website. If you’re in HR, maybe review their LinkedIn profile for hireability. You get the picture… offer something of value and give it to them graciously. You may never get a reurn nibble, but that’s OK… you’ve make a friend as well as a networking connection. A percent of these will result in future opportunities just because you gave without expecting something in return. What goes around comes around.
Seven: Look at Yourself and Adjust. One of the benefits of using a video platform versus an in-person meeting is that you get a chance to see your face during the meeting. Scary thought! This is great because you can have a conversation with your face about how you look, adjusting it periodically to have a more pleasant and welcoming look on your face. Your body language tells them far more that your words do. It reveals your authenticity in learning about them. Authentic people win in this area because it builds trust.
Eight: Read the Room. Video platforms are designed to enable you to see the participant(s)’ face(s) clearly, which allows you to read each participant’s body language. While you cannot see the jimmy legs under the table or the doodling on a pad, learn to read facial expressions Here’s a great resource on this.
Nine: Create a Virtual Background. One of the best features of Zoom is the user’s ability to create a virtual background. Instead of letting people look at my boring office, I created this virtual background. It’s easy! I found a hi-res stock photo from the library I purchased and placed it onto a blank PowerPoint slide using a 16:9 ratio. I then superimposed my company logo and tagline on the background, then saved the slide as a PNG file. I uploaded into Zoom as a virtual background and it helps to reinforce my brand as I meet with people.
Ten: Consider a Virtual Networking Group. Whether you join an existing group or create one yourself, virtual networking groups can be very helpful in generating business. For example, one group I know consists of six people in non-competitive businesses and each person is an expert in their area of specialty. They refer clients to one another and work jointly on complex projects. Bi-weekly or monthly networking meetings have generated almost $10 million dollars of business leads over the course of this past year.
Today is a great day to begin virtual networking. As is tomorrow. And the day after that. It’s a rapid way to build relationships from anywhere, anytime.
So… what’s the first right step to take next to begin your own virtual networking odyssey?
This article is derived from my highly acclaimed course, Leading Through People 16 – Networking for Leaders.
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Improving your (or your team’s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People™. This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
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I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employers connect people to better jobs faster. My two books on job search (Amazon.com) help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 215-942-0982.