Had I asked you a year ago what you think I mean by online networking, you would speak of social media and the platforms within such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
Fast forward to a year later and now the question is what even is social media outside of Zoom? Well at least that’s how we feel. It has become the epicentre of how we all network on both a professional and personal level. Virtual Film Night with your friends? Zoom. Hiring a new employee? Zoom. Virtual office party? Zoom.
Catalysed by the need to WFH, Zoom and its similar friends like Teams has become essential to communicate with colleagues and clients. With traditional face-to-face networking on hold, it appears the revolution of online network meetings are here to stay for some time.
There’s even been talk that some of the larger networks might keep the online element and some might even use it to replace physical in-person networking completely.
It’s not for everyone. But like it or not, online networking has stepped up and taken the limelight.
So, I’ve put together some essential tips to help you with your online networking skills.
I hope you find them useful!
BEFORE you start networking online
1. This is possibly the most essential tip. Ensure that everyone else in your house is aware you’re on a video call and that they’re not to come barging in or disturb you. =
2. Your background behind you needs to minimise distractions, so try and keep it simple. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about a certain MP who was spotted with some interesting right-wing reading material on his bookshelves. Some people use virtual backgrounds, but make sure it works well enough that your limbs aren’t going to virtually vanish during the call.
3. Make sure you have a quiet and comfy space to sit. You don’t always know how long a meeting is going to go on for, so grab some water and a notebook/pen if you’ll need them, and maybe bring a quiet clean snack too.
4. Lighting is key when on video call. Try and make sure you are facing a window or have a light in front of you to brighten up your face. Side tip: If it’s really dark or you don’t have suitable ceiling lighting, grab some ‘softbox lights’ from Amazon or a ring light!
5. The likes of Zoom and its counterparts are new to some of us, so make sure to check out the tech beforehand and make sure whatever software you’re using for your online meeting is compatible.
6. Another techy tip. Check and test your audio and camera settings, as usually your laptop or tablet will have a built-in microphone, camera, and speakers. If you’re using Zoom for example, launch it a couple of minutes before a call and check your equipment is in working order. In the desktop app, click your profile image > Settings > Audio. Choose the right input and output for your audio and mic. Test them. Then navigate to video and do the same for your camera.
7. You don’t want to look down on people, literally. If you use an internal camera on your laptop, use something like a laptop riser or books to prop the camera to eye level. Not only will this look better to your fellow Zoomers, but it takes a lot of strain on your neck! Try to think ‘newsreader’ and you’ll be on the right track to a good camera set-up/view.
8. Use headphones if you have them. As an Apple fangirl I use Airpods Pro which I find absolutely brilliant, but an inexpensive pair will work. Try find headphones with built in mics as these usually work to concentrate the sounds you make and minimise any background noise.
DURING your online networking event
1. Mute your mic when you’re not talking. You don’t want to hear unexpected noises like children, pets, parcel deliverers etc, so mute your mic when someone else is chatting away. But don’t forget to unmute when you do need to talk! As you would in a new car, get yourself familiar with the controls.
2. ‘Fake’ your eye contact. When speaking, try to look at the camera. Instinctively we look at other people’s faces for eye contact, but to them they won’t see the eye contact. So, look directly at the camera when you can.
3. This is kind of pre-call tip. But have a word document open in the background with relevant pre-set texts and links to your website/Facebook page/groups etc. This way you can copy and paste and put in the chat so other attendees can have quick look at your social platforms. Time this carefully though. Try to post directly after your pitch and don’t post stuff about yourself when it’s someone else’s turn.
4. BE CAREFUL. Whilst you can often chat with each other in the meeting, be aware that the meeting host can view a complete transcript of all messaging, potentially even the private ones. So, try keep it to exchanging contact details so you can connect elsewhere, rather than slagging off the organiser! WhatsApp or Facebook messenger would be best for that!
5. Maximise your professional manner. If you do need to get up and leave for a moment, turn off camera and have your photo or logo visible temporarily. No one wants to see that you’d rather be somewhere else whilst they are talking. Above all, make sure you’re on mute, no one needs to hear your trip to the toilet (Yes, a famous politician has done that too and those wireless AirPods can catch you out!)
The rest of it all follows the normal ‘rules of engagement’ at a networking event.
• Try and listen carefully without interrupting and ask questions to show your interest.
• Think about what referrals you can offer.
• Follow up afterwards to build the connection and stay in touch.
You’ve probably heard that Zoom and other platforms can be exhausting. Here are some tips on Zoom fatigue which you may find useful.
If you’d like to come to Spaghetti Agency’s informal networking at the virtual pub it runs on Fridays during lockdown.
Written by Jo Ciriani