Networking in the Virtual World
Virtual ways of doing things continue to be perfected. At the same time, our willingness to learn and use new tools – in all facets of our lives – is at an all-time high. How does this translate into networking and increasing our social capital at work and beyond? A Key4Women® expert weighs in.
- Hybrid and virtual networking are likely here to stay, although in-person events still hold real value
- Virtual events are inclusive, allowing time-challenged attendees more opportunities to network
- To ensure the most benefit from virtual events, plan ahead to allow for your total engagement
The New Face of Networking
Pandemic shutdowns required most of us to become virtual business leaders, employees, teachers and students. Two years later, many continue to conduct their work life with limited in-person interaction or activity. Back in 2020 we quickly learned to “virtualize” most of our lives, including maintaining our list of connections via email, virtual calls, personal social channels and LinkedIn. But have we significantly expanded our networks in the past two years?
Gen Z has done just that, and by 2030 this generation will make up 30% of the workforce. Unlike their parents, the members of Gen Z aren’t just maintaining existing connections online – they are forming entirely new connections and planning to continue virtual relationship-building even after quarantines and social distancing have ended. What can we learn from them?
An in-depth study by Handshake, a platform that connects students and employers, found the following:
- Nearly 7 in 10 Gen Z job seekers believe they do not need to meet in person to forge a meaningful professional connection
- Women are 26% more likely than men to believe you do not need to meet in person to make professional connections
- 87% of Gen Z job seekers believe that messaging with an employer may lead to a job
Bridging the Virtual Gap: Tips from Jennifer Lafalce at KeyBank
The good news is, we are in this new virtual networking world together. Learning from each other can help us all become successful in networking in the hybrid or completely virtual workspace.
To gain further insight, we spoke with Jennifer Lafalce, sales experience and execution consumer consultant, Key4Women co-chair and vice president, KeyBank.
“There is a good chance we may never go back to networking the way it was done before, with in-person-only events and meetings,” Lafalce said. “There are so many advantages to hybrid and virtual-only networking options, especially for women, who often carry more family responsibilities than their male counterparts. Virtual networking is an equalizer of sorts – it’s definitely more inclusive than in-person-only networking, and we are getting pretty good at it.”
You can also expand your reach and impact at a much lower cost using technology and a well-thought-out agenda, she commented. Attendees save on travel time and cost as well.
Technology is continuing to evolve, and we now have capabilities for even larger national and global meetings to run almost seamlessly, with a much-improved participant experience. Attendees can take part in chats, polls, games, breakout sessions, event entertainment and more. Another attendee advantage is the opportunity to play back sessions that you missed or want to hear again.
“There continues to be a high value to in-person networking – a handshake, eye contact and ease of conversation that being in the same room allows. We are human and crave personal contact,” Lafalce said. “For this reason alone, I believe in the benefits of in-person networking. Over the past two years, however, we have embraced the realities of hybrid living and networking as part of our new world.”
Lafalce offers the following tips to help improve your virtual networking:
- Set a measurable goal for each event you attend. For example, a reasonable event outcome would be to obtain five new connections for every hundred attendees. Think of this activity as the handshakes you would be initiating at an in-person event. Follow-up is part of your post-event activity.
- Before heading to a virtual event or meeting, research the topic. Determine what you want to get out of the meeting and draft questions ahead of time. A small amount of prep will help you gain the most from the time you invest.
- Utilize LinkedIn before and after your virtual sessions and even during breaks. Have a plan for who you want to connect with ahead of the meeting or event. There is a lot of opportunity to connect with others post-event, especially those you speak with in breakout sessions. Grow your list as you go.
- Prepare to be completely present. If you are committing the time to attend, make sure the presenters and group activities have your full engagement. Walk the dog ahead of time, arrange for childcare and put your phone away, except for making connections on LinkedIn (at the appropriate time). Remember time is our most valuable resource.
- When you are running breakout sessions, begin or end each session with, “Get out your phones and let’s connect on LinkedIn!” Post your “personalized” LinkedIn profile URL link into the chat and welcome attendees to connect.
- When utilizing LinkedIn, take one step beyond establishing a connection and send your new contact a message. For example, “I would love to connect virtually for coffee sometime.” Then get that meetup on the calendar!
- If you feel like you will be doing double duty during the event, perhaps opt for the recording option when it becomes available. Again, plan ahead so you can be fully present and engaged.
One additional piece of advice that Lafalce shared is for event planners: “Start the planning process for any event with a diverse committee. Different age groups and demographics will help influence a best-in-class event that fosters excellent learning, participation and networking for all.”