“I just can’t do one more online meeting.”
“You can’t get business that way.”
“My clients need me more.”
Have you ever said, or thought, any of these things about a virtual event or while involved in a conference organization during the pandemic? It’s not the first time I’ve heard them, which is why they merit a mention here.
When you say these things out loud or to yourself, it’s likely that your first reaction is that you’re fed up, the organization is faulty, or you’ll just hang on until things get back to “normal.” But consider for just a moment that maybe the networking barrier in these scenarios is actually you.
I know, that’s hard to hear, but hear me out and keep an open mind.
“I just can’t do one more online meeting”
Let’s first look at the idea that you can’t do one more online meeting.
First, this is a fair comment. We ALL have some level of zoom fatigue. By this point in the pandemic, we’re exhausted and most of us are required to do some level of virtual connections every day. Some of us are having to be in meetings almost all day or actually all day. When it comes time to choose between client meetings and networking meetings, the choice is obvious. You’re going to skip the networking meetings.
But while we are not having in-person events, virtual conferences are going to continue, and you’ll need to evaluate the importance of your relationship development and networking goals. If you want to achieve them, you’ll need to continue to prioritize virtual networking, as unpalatable as it may be. Also, post-pandemic, virtual networking will continue. Those who have learned to accomplish it successfully will have the ability to navigate the nuances that you haven’t if you’ve skipped all of the virtual sessions. It will never replace in-person events, but there are great benefits (which we’ll get into in a moment), so it’s worth taking advantage of while you have to.
We’ve talked about your business development plans here ad nauseum – many of them will include the ability to develop relationships with other people, who, at this time, will only be available virtually. So you have a couple of options – you can pivot your business development plan to include other activities that don’t involve networking at all (which is somewhat challenging, because there will likely still be some level of virtual connection in there, either through speaking virtually or virtual client meetings), Or, you can accept that virtual networking will be a part of your life for the near term and you can make the best of it. Since organizations will most likely move towards a hybrid model in the future, this is a great time to start learning how to leverage virtual networking.
“You can’t get business that way.”
This is a complaint I’ve heard both about virtual and in-person networking. There are some cases where this happens because you’re not in the right organization, and no matter how much effort and care you put into it, you will never get business from it. If your main purpose is business networking (and not, say, volunteering), then you’ve identified that it doesn’t work for you, and you can move on to investing your energy elsewhere. But in general, let’s presume that you’ve done your due diligence before joining an organization, and you are committed to trying to make it work for you. If it’s not, you may need to ask yourself some key questions:
- How long have I given the organization/event to work? Did I go to one event and leave without business, and now I think it doesn’t work for me? Or have I been going to events regularly for years without success? If it’s the former, you need to give it more time – networking is a marathon, not a sprint. You will rarely, if ever, go to one event and come out with business. If the event is virtual, did I attend with my camera off (yes, I know that’s easier, but it does make a difference)? Did I engage with fellow attendees, either in the chat or verbally, or did I sit back and listen only? Did I participate in a single session or multiple sessions?
- What is my criteria for referrals? Do I only look at direct referrals, or do I also weigh those that come from friends that I’ve made through the organization who have moved on to other companies, secondary referrals that people within the organization have given me, etc.?
- How much natural business is coming into my jurisdiction? Should I be expecting referrals in, and I’m not seeing them, or is business more naturally outgoing? Are we in a down-cycle at the moment, and if so, how can I be shoring up my relationships so that when business picks back up again, I’m the first call?
- Did I speak with multiple people at the event, or just one? Did I introduce myself to new people, or stick with the same group that I’m comfortable with? Did I sign up for breakout groups or only speaker sessions? Did I volunteer to be a speaker or moderate a session? Did I reach out to people in the chat?
- Did I reach out to the organizers of the event to share my goals and ask them to introduce me to key people or ensure that any of the pre-set breakouts were organized with people I wanted to meet? Did I ask if there was anything I could do to be useful, and therefore more engaged with other attendees?
- Did I arrange to follow up with the people that I met at the event, by connecting with them on LinkedIn, arranging to meet for a follow-up call or zoom meeting? Did I create specific opportunities for follow-up, and then follow up on those?
- Did I set goals for myself for the event (such as meeting five new people) and meet those goals? Or did I stay a wallflower wondering if someone would introduce themselves to me?
- Did I talk about myself and my practice the entire conversation, or did I ask questions that could help me identify where I could perhaps be the solution to someone’s problem? Did I potentially identify connections to introduce my new contacts to, or clients, etc.?
It feels like virtual networking can’t work because we show up to a zoom session that is speaker-heavy, we don’t engage with the other attendees, the organizers, or the speakers, and we leave *maybe* getting some new information from the content, but usually just annoyed that we wasted our time and energy. But as with any of your business development efforts, when you are intentional about the events that you choose and the effort that you expend connecting before, during, and after the event, you will get a lot more out of it.
“My clients need me more.”
This one is always going to be true. When you go to an in-person conference, it’s easier to tell your clients that you’re not physically in the office and their urgent needs can wait (sometimes). But when you’re physically IN the office and they call with something, and it comes down to the client or that virtual event you were planning to attend? We know it’s always going to be the client. That’s just what it is. Existing client always trumps potential client.
But in this case, see if you can mitigate the impact of that by trying to make part of the event if you can, reaching out to the organizers for recordings and attendee lists, and then reviewing both so that you can get a sense of which other attendees you should reach out to in order to connect with. Let them know you missed the event and that you’d like to set up a quick meeting with them to hear their highlights. This is a talking point that allows you to advance your business development goals without telling your clients no.
When you put a little bit of extra thought into the before, during, and after of any virtual networking event, you can make it work for you. It may take a strong look in the mirror to identify whether you’re being truly honest about where the barrier to your networking success lies, but you may surprise yourself with long-term success!