In just a few months, the coronavirus pandemic and the necessity of social distancing has transformed everyday interactions. Everything from work meetings to gatherings with friends have now migrated to the virtual world of Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype etc.
Beyond simply speaking with friends, family and colleagues, some have ventured to the use of video conferencing tools as a means of networking with strangers. This can be a somewhat unfamiliar terrain for many, with new etiquette to navigate through and a great potential for awkwardness. Director and founder of Eskenzi PR Yvonne Eskenzi, explains 3 top tips for running a successful virtual networking event.
Keep your trousers on!
Back in 2017, during a live interview with the BBC, Professor Robert Kelly found himself gate-crashed by his children, a video which soon went viral. Just this week, the internet was flooded with memes and news stories about the ABC News reporter, Will Reeve, appearing on live television with a suit jacket… and no trousers.
Fortunately, he took it in his stride. Nevertheless, both of these are relevant and important, if not humorous, examples of how video conferencing has a way of putting people’s actions and personal lives under a microscope. Sometimes, the consequences can be a lot more serious. For example, one politician was forced to resign for roughly tossing his pet cat to the floor during a Zoom meeting.
What people wear, say or have in the background becomes subject to scrutiny; it can even be recorded and made a permanent stain on the person’s reputation. So, be careful what is shared on screen and stay (relatively) professional.
Be prepared and have fun
Being prepared and ensuring everyone enjoys themselves come hand-in-hand. No one wants awkward silence and the occasional dog bark to dominate the call, or for an uncharged laptop to end the fun early. Make sure to have a few icebreaker games planned, questions ready or a talking point people can fall back on. One idea is to have attendees get creative and dress up according to a theme (this is where professionalism might be relative!). On the technical side, check in advance for any issues with lighting or sound quality and have a charger on hand. Last but not least, pick a quiet spot free from interruptions – make sure there are no meandering toddlers!
Capitalise on the event
At the end of the day, a networking event cannot be considered successful if no one stays in touch. If the call is not being recorded, make sure someone is taking notes and acquiring the contact details of each individual. There should not be an idea or interesting conversation that goes forgotten, especially when it could be a great way to reach out to attendees later.
Networking is not supposed to be a one-off event but the start of a great friendship and, potentially, a mutually beneficial business relationship. Capitalise on the event to build these connections and support others to do the same.