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30 ways to make the most of online networking meetings by Helen Thomson

Updated: 2 days ago

How many of these do you do? Online meetings suit some people and are disliked by others. Either way, we have to embrace them in our business and networking lives. And it can be quite a soul destroying 'wooden' experience, where people appear two dimensional and uncomfortable.


Here some tips about how to stand out and be remembered (*for all the right reasons) and are what I've gleaned from our baptism by fire in 2020. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this or any other tips you've mastered!


BEFORE


1. Update your social media profiles with the image (ideally taken in the last few months) and biog you are comfortable with and which accurately reflects your current needs (business or otherwise but ideally linked to the content/purpose of the event if it's a significant one for you) or longer term goals and purpose, mission or vision.


2. Be clear about why you are attending and what you want to gain from attending – which of your current personal aims or objectives is it meeting? how can you best benefit from this experience, time to really be clear because then you are SO much more likely to achieve them or at least something on that spectrum.


It's very helpful to be able to avoid the feeling of 'well that's two hours of my life I'll not get back!'


3. Read about the event and identify who will be there – either as speakers, session leaders or participants. This is especially helpful if you've not met any of them before. When you are waiting to start the meeting there's sometimes 'awkward' space where you could easily speak to someone you recognised or message something in the chat. Everyone will be grateful for something to divert them from their own social anxiety!


4. As part of your research, follow them on social media – google them and look for LinkedIn, twitter and instagram accounts in particular. Like or follow them. Check out their background and what they look like. Listen to a bit of a podcast or see who they've collaborated with in the past. Memorise key facts to drop into any potential dialogue or use as an opener. People love to think you know something about them (as long as the info was in the public domain!), can be as random as a post about their dog and remembering it's name or perhaps you’ve looked at a resume of a book they’ve published, or a paper they’ve written, anything really. They will immediately see you in a different light. A more positive one!


5. Be helpful and be noticed before the event. Follow the organisation online, the one which is holding/promoting the event. As well as the venue. Help them spread the news about the event and make it clear you are attending. The more people that you tag the more you will increase your reach. Retweet or share links and comment on the posts to say how much you are looking forward to it/meeting them.


6. Sharing is not just about being altruistic and helpful (although it is VERY helpful and they will be grateful). What goes around does come round and you will completely get this if you ever hold events yourself. You could call it enlightened self interest. It really is a win/win and maximises the event opportunities and amplifies your name/business if the tweets are done well and accurately, with links to attend/book. What's more, they will most likely retweet. Your reach will be increased hugely. By the time the event comes along your name will sound familiar and they will feel more comfortable with you. So when you introduce yourself there will be a ‘halo’ effect immediately. All from a few supportive tweets. Magic!



7. Try to make personal contact with key speakers or attendees if possible ahead of the session. Ask if they will be taking any screen shots (or if it’s ok for you to do so) to increase reach and reputation post event.


8. Try to contact the organiser, follow the social media accounts and ask if there is an attendee list. If not, make a note using pen and paper, or a screen shot, to help you remember who was who. This can also be done with the chat box. Some meetings suggest people add their contact details. Some say they will share the list - but it's safest to take responsibility for this yourself just in case it slips off their to do list!


DURING


9. Look your best. Be comfortable with what you are wearing and how you look. Think about colour and how something bright (if you already possess those things) can make you 'pop' and be a little more memorable on a screen of waxwork faces! Consider the background showing behind you on the meeting if it’s in person such as teams or zoom. Move around the house or office a bit to get the best position or lighting, if that’s possible. Try to avoid being in shadow, people need to see your face (it's a trust and engagement thing). Blur the background if it’s a bit cluttered or perhaps pick a virtual backdrop from the drop down menus. But bear in mind that, if like me, you have 'big hair' it might create an almost seasick motion issue when it adjusts after any movement on your part (does that make sense!?). You could also consider adding your own background with your logo or brand visible but again.


10. Attempt to log in at least ten mins before the start. Make sure you know where your camera and mute buttons are. And the chat box.


11. Remember to look at the camera on your devise, not at your image on the screen when talking. This really helps you connect with people and as most people do not do this, it will help you stand out. I've done experiments with this and it's quite difficult as we're so used to looking at the person we are speaking to, so we can take clues from their reaction face to face, but ironically, if you look at THEM, as far as they are concerned you are NOT looking at them and they will engage less. It also means that you will really have to have thought about what you're going to say - reading something is not going to be the best solution, so avoid if you possibly can.



12. Be animated. We are not auditioning to be news anchors who are often immobile so as not to distract from the message. We need to express ourselves as much as possible using body language in this context, to the extent that it fits with what and who we are. Be aware that if you are asked to be muted except when talking yourself, you will need to exaggerate your reactions slightly so they are visible. This will include nodding, smiling, waving (goodbye usually!) and perhaps clapping. If you can familiarise yourself with where the icons for putting your hand up to request to speak, or clapping, are placed on the screen that will also help.


13. When they let you in to the meeting make an attempt to say hello to a couple of people and look attentive when others are talking.



14. If you want to make new contacts and give a good impression, always have your camera on, and be attentive. Don’t multi task. Avoid the temptation to do your emails! Passive listening makes people feel insecure about themselves and unkindly about the person who made them feel that way.


15. Know what you’re going to say in your intro. This is very important. It need not be too formal, you can smile and say how pleased you are to be there and hello to everyone. Beyond that, it’s good to state your name clearly, what you do, what that actually means (if it needs clarifying), something that distinguishes you from everyone else there ‘my passion is, I am fascinated by, I believe that, my mission is to…and then say why you are there and what you hope to gain from the meeting. Say that you’d love to make contact with people who might benefit from any introductions you could make for them or help them in any way…and say how they could contact you (or that you’d be happy to receive any messages in the chat box).



16. Listen to everyone else’s introductions and make brief notes. Refer to other people in your own intro or when asking questions, shown links – Sarah who I hear is from my neck of the wood, said this… I agree with John on this point…I’d like to add to Asif’s comment about…


17. Personally message with, really great to hear about what you do, or I agree with that point completely, anything really, to the people who you identify as interesting or relevant or with whom you might have some common ground. (depending on your objectives for attending of course). You can usually choose to message a specific person in a chat box, even if the default is ‘group chat’. Usually just takes a little toggle on an option box in the ‘to’ section.



18. Engage in the group chat too. Little supportive comments. It can be really brief, even a thumbs up in the general chat after they’ve made a point you agree with (with a brief note of context in case it’s not seen real time)


19. Smile where you can. Look friendly. Act as if you were in a face to face meeting in that regard. It will be noticed. Online meetings can be devoid of any personality with people more like wax works than living sentient beings. It’s actually easier to stand out in this environment than in a face to face networking event.



20. Avoid hogging the ‘any questions’ section or interrupting people, but do be prepared to ask a question as people will notice you more. Needn’t be a contentious topic. Just something relevant or asking for clarification. Or even just thanking the last speaker (or whatever). It need not be a groundbreaking comment, just shows you’re invested and engaged. This will endear you to the host.


21. Ask in the group chat if there’s a list of people’s social media handles, or whether people would be prepared to share theirs – they will, that’s what they are all there for too. Either screen shot the chat thread or make a quick note. But a few screen grabs might be quicker and easier at the time.



22. Don’t be shy. You can be the glue that makes this whole thing work. Your energy and enthusiasm will go along way and help people feel more relaxed.


23. Take a screen shot if you’ve got permission. Or ask for it during the meeting – you could ask if there will be any participant photos to share or if it’s ok for you to take one? I’ve never had a request denied. This can be shared after the event, with any relevant tags to the event host and people who you wanted to connect with.


AFTER


24. After the event, post on whatever social media you use that you attended and perhaps share some tips or key takeaways. And tag the relevant people. This will be hugely appreciated. And it can make all the difference to someone's personal feelings about themselves after an event. Feedback is SO important. Never underestimate the power of a few kind (and genuine) words can do. And a tip or idea attributed to the correct speaker could make someone's day.


25. As a side note, if you are attending a webinar which does not require you to be visible, it is a great idea to live tweet comments or tips as that will really make the organiser or speaker notice you. And will do wonders for any contact you have post event.


26. Consciously think of ways you can help the other people in the meeting. Think of whom they might benefit from knowing within your existing network. Message them along these lines, perhaps asking if meeting a person who does so and so would be of any interest etc. Even if nothing comes of it, your generosity and openness, willingness to reach out and your selfless non ‘salesy’ approach will work in your favour.


27. Don’t be afraid to reach out using to the social media channel’s Direct Message function after the event. If they don’t respond in a couple of hours, (because some people get overwhelmed by their direct messages and simply don’t read them) consider an email thanking them.


28. You can also make this first contact in public message. Find a post about the event and comment under, along with ‘would be great to make contact to discuss this further, what’s the best way of keeping in touch please’. I’ve never had this ignored.


29. If you really want to go for gold, follow everyone who was on the meeting and tag them in posts about the event. They will notice. And while they themselves might not be potentially useful contacts for you, they may know someone who needs to collaborate with someone like you. You just never know who knows who. Time and time again I find this. Effort put into authentic honest networking is never wasted. It’s as if the powers that be are watching sometimes. The area in which you expected a contact to be made can sometimes evade but you’ll probably be surprised at the unexpected links that will materialise if you put yourself out there with intent.


30. And the final point is, FOLLOW UP! All this effort could be wasted if you do not do this vital step. Not only does it cement and reinforce the presence you exhibited before and during the meeting or session but it demonstrates only good things about you – what do you think when someone follows up nicely? And by nicely I mean, friendly not demanding or overly salesy. Surely the qualities that this reveals – efficiency, organisation, being thorough, reliable, persistent (in a good way) and what’s more, the light personal compliment it conveys within the action, that you are important enough for that person to have reached out – would make you more likely to trust them in the context in which you were meeting and more likely to collaborate, refer or work together if the need presented itself? I’ve even found myself thinking of ways to collaborate if I find someone I can connect with and trust.


I hope these tips are helpful.

I am sure there are others. If you’d like to share them with me, I’ll happily re share them online.

If you’ve found this of any benefit, perhaps your existing network (no matter how small) might also find them interesting.

Or I could run a Masterclass for you online or in person?

How about sharing the link to this post on your socials or linkedIn?

You can find me at @helenthomsonuk or Helen@thomsontraining.com

Hope to hear from you.


* In case this reminded you of one of the early online meeting viral shares, that of Jackie Weaver and the legendary parish council meeting that put Handsforth on the map, here's a collaboration I did with Jackie for a bit of fun, which you might have seen on the news/media in April 2020. Or probably not. But either way, it might put a smile on your face!



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