How to Make Connections That Convert at Virtual Events
Networking and relationship building remains one of the biggest benefits for many events, with those connections lasting long after the event is over.
But with the shift to virtual events, many attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and speakers alike frequently find those connections don’t last when the event is over.
To discover how to make virtual event connections “stickier” and keep the conversation going without getting ghosted, we asked several leading eventprofs for their tips.
Define the Expected Outcomes
Before a virtual event begins, be specific in identifying your reasons for meeting new people and building connections.
Is your purpose to gather intelligence and enhance your industry knowledge? Are you looking to identify those who might be potential collaborators, mentors, partners, or clients? Or something else?
By identifying your goals and desired outcomes, it becomes easier to develop your plan for making connections.
Don’t Forget the Value of Sticking with What Works
Corbin Ball, meetings technology speaker, consultant, and writer, offered that when it comes to making connections that convert, what frequently works best is sticking with the tried-and-true.
“What works is a comfortable, easy-to-use simulation of a face-to-face event. For example, an automatic video avatar that is easy to navigate in a realistic setting makes it easy to connect with an individual, small groups, an exhibitor, and sit in a general session.”
Skip the Standard In-Person Agenda
“People continue to try and force in-person thinking into online agendas,” said Brandt Krueger, technical producer, consultant, and educator, Event Technology Consulting. “You can’t dump 200+ people in a video chat and think they’ll get any networking done.”
Instead, Brandt recommended downsizing groups and changing up the rotation. “A cocktail party in the real world may have 100-200 people in it, but they’re spread out, and the good ones will offer areas where people can break off in groups of five or so to chat. You can’t have a conversation with more than about five or six people in an online breakout group, so keep networking groups small, and rotate them at comfortable intervals.”
Dedicate Time to Working the Event
While there may be a strong temptation to multitask during networking portions of virtual events, get the most out of the event by setting aside dedicated time to connect with other attendees.
Giving your complete focus allows you to be more engaged and get more value from the experience, making it easier to connect with others genuinely.
Start By Asking a Question
One simple way to get started connecting with other attendees is, to begin with, a question, said James Morgan, Ph.D., CSEP, Founder of Event Tech Lab. “Simply ask a question related to the event content or make an observation about one of their social media posts from LinkedIn or another social channel.”
James added that you can make the question even more targeted by looking up the person you want to talk to and doing some quick research.
Keep Body Language Friendly and Open
When F2F, friendly, open body language signals that you are relaxed, trustworthy, and happy to talk.
But when it comes to virtual formats of audio-only or on-camera, dynamics are different. Good virtual etiquette always applies. But beyond that:
- Maintain good eye contact with the camera. Don’t overdo it, but look directly into the camera as if that is the person you’re speaking with.
- Stand or sit up straight, but don’t stiffen your back. Push your chest out slightly and keep your head up. Good posture signals confidence.
- Use a genuine smile, both in your voice and on your face. If you speak as if you’re smiling, the overall tone is more upbeat – creating a positive tone that is welcoming even when virtually. And when we smile naturally, our eyes crease slightly at the corners. Practice this in a mirror, so it comes just as easily when on camera.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Whether it’s F2F or digital, there are always introverts who don’t find it easy to start a conversation. Corbin suggested acknowledging the challenge and finding ways to step out of your comfort zone. “While it might seem a bit uncomfortable, the best way to learn more about who is in the digital room with you is simply to approach them and start a conversation!”
Serve Up a Compliment
Brandt admitted it can be “a little weird” to slide into someone else’s DM’s if you don’t truly know them yet. “I always like to start by responding positively to something they’ve said or that I agree with publicly.”
Another way to find a mutual topic of interest? Brandt says that “in small networking groups, hopefully, you’ve been provided with some discussion topics to get the conversation flowing. Use those ice-breakers to see who you gel with and who you don’t.”
While many platforms have a “request a connection” option, Brandt said it often feels easier to make a public chat connection first. Then, “make an effort to exchange info, connect on LinkedIn, etc., later.”
Get Connected on Social
Just as you would do when meeting in person, once the event is over, make a connection on social media. Corbin recommends getting their LinkedIn profile and following up with them there.
James echoed the idea too. “If you had an engaging conversation with them during the virtual event, look for contact details in the networking portion of your platform. Then connect with them on social or ask for an email to keep the discussion going.”
Brandt cautions about finding opportunities to engage and build rapport authentically. “It drives me nuts when people connect on LinkedIn and then immediately hit me with a sales pitch,” he said. “Imagine if we did that in person? ‘Hey, I’m Chad.’ ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Susan.’ ‘Cool. Let me tell you about our online event platform. We’re the premier provider of…'”
Going immediately into a blatant sales pitch is one reason why post-event connections frequently fizzle. But by starting with identifying desired outcomes, keeping body language open and friendly, posing questions and authentically connecting post-event, you’ll create connections that convert.
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