My email and LinkedIn are flooded daily with invitations to virtual events. I flinch each time one comes through.
“I should” and “Not if wild horses” have a noisy row at the back of my mind. I have some scars from past virtual event experiences.
At the start of the pandemic, I accepted indiscriminately and sat there as you would on an appalling first date, biting my lip and wondering how quickly I could make an excuse and disappear.
And I would swear at myself afterward; the sheer boredom, the fake smiles, the time wasted.
The problem is that while in-person events are now back, online networking and virtual events are convenient and time-efficient.
But if it delivers nothing, you would be better spending that time elsewhere. Some of that issue lies with the host.
Signs of Poorly Managed Virtual Events
I attended some truly appalling virtual events. Grim, grim, and grimmer.
I have noticed these signs that consistently appear, warning you that your time is not well spent.
- Inviting the world at random: We have all been there., turning up to virtual events only to find there are only three other people, and they are all in fashion in the City, when you work in catering in the sticks. Organizers shouldn’t concentrate on getting bums on seats but the right mix of bums. There will be little conversation and less value.
- Failure to test the tech. There have been occasions when I have rushed around getting ready and arrived promptly to find the host scrambling in just on time and their tech fails.
- A poor welcome: If you are giving up your time to go to virtual events, a little welcome or even a smile from the host should be a bare minimum. But too often, they are engrossed in a chat with a crony.
- Poor moderation: This is something I have found at many virtual events. The host allows a favored few to monopolize the conversation, usually on the sole basis that they are regulars. As the proverbial party bore, the monotony and self-aggrandizing are allowed to continue unchecked. Good moderators encourage everyone to get involved and share expertise.
- Disorganized breakout rooms where you find yourself frantically trying to summon something interesting to say to the person you have now met for the third time and still have nothing in common with.
- Lastly, there is the organizer whose own interests or ego dominate. These are never remotely interested in providing value for the attendees, but only in promoting themselves.
And at the first sniff of these signs, instead of sitting there, glazed over, I have learned to make the excuses, however unlikely, needed for me to disappear. I am happy and guilt-free.
If the organizer can’t do a good job of their virtual events, my time is better spent elsewhere.
That said, I was also an appalling networker for so many years, that I have had to learn that you only get out what you get in.
Start by asking yourself why you are going
When I accepted invitations at the start of the pandemic, it was through a desperate desire for human contact and to see how others were coping.
It is different now.
If you are giving up your extremely precious time, you want to be crystal clear on the reasons.
It might be sales leads. Many networking groups, virtual and otherwise, are full of network marketers doing precisely that. In this case, your choice of group and ensuring it is full of people who might actually buy from you is crucial.
But remember, you aren’t selling on the day. If you go for that, the chances are you will be disappointed. Networking is about creating leads, that vital first connection in a relationship.
Another reason you might network is to develop a peer group that will help you learn and grow.
“Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes.” — Ronald Burt
A support group of peers who understand what you are going through is invaluable support to anyone in business. Equally, contacts with more knowledge than you can be a priceless source of learning. Virtual events are a chance to find both without moving from your office.
The final reason I would offer up for your giving up your valuable time to go to virtual events would be referrals. Even if the idea sales lead is not there, nor the perfect mentor, growing a selective network via networking could be the wisest step you ever make.
Notice the word selective. Again, it is about choosing your groups carefully and doing your research.
Virtual event networking is like any other business investment. Be sure of what results you want and measure the ROI.
Or stay yawning.
Six golden rules to get value from an event
Just as you wouldn’t go on a first date without some preparation and ready to put your best face forward, so it is with attending virtual events.
You will only get out as much as you put in.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” — Brene Brown
1. Prep the elevator pitch:
Originally called to emulate the time to travel up or down in an elevator, but there have been several I have sat through and had to fight nodding off after several minutes in.
Keep it short, keep people awake, and make it interesting and memorable.
Be warm and relaxed so people want to talk to you later.
2. Keep everything short:
Monopolizing conversations is extremely bad form, be it within the group or a breakout room. People will resent you for it. Your job is to be charming, interesting, and speak little.
Take an interest in your fellow virtual event attendees. Not only is it good manners, but it also means you can quickly assess who is of remote relevance to speak to again in the future.
3. Be Kind:
At all virtual events, there are nearly always some students, new business owners, and novice networkers. Never forget that you were there once. It costs nothing to be kind, to be encouraging, to take an interest.
The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” — Keith Ferrazzi
4. Do not sell:
Do not sell. Do not even think about selling.
Would you meet someone in any other social situation and start pitching to them? Of course not. You might arrange to speak again or go for a coffee or a game of golf.
You are cultivating a new relationship, and that means listening.
5. Prep beforehand:
As with any other sales activity, research matters. The more you know about your host, the group, and other attendees beforehand, the more you can hit the ground running.
Some of the best networking groups issue an attendee list in advance. These enable you to look and decide who would be of interest to you and who you could be of use to.
Never forget networking is a two-way street
6. Follow up afterwards:
Much of the success of attending virtual events lies in the follow-ups. You can walk away and have wasted your time altogether.
Or, you can use the email addresses you have gathered and write a great email suggesting you stay in touch or meet for coffee.
Spend your time wisely:
Attending a virtual event requires you to be on your sparkly, best A-game while you are there.
If you are bored sick, then leave. Life is too short.
Otherwise, don’t sell. Develop
Still not selling.
Just think about developing long-term relationships, which is what events should be about.
Learning this took me a long, long time. There is still the odd virtual event I go to, during which I have to scribble a quick note in the messages apologizing for my departure.
However once I learned that the true value of these virtual events lies in focusing on quality connections, it skyrocketed my persona and professional growth. No one was more amazed than I.
It can do the same for you.