What we’ve learned about first impressions at online networking events
With many business networking events moving online this year, it’s important to adapt your approach if you still want to make a positive impression. Networking via a digital event can make you useful contacts and raise your visibility.
The challenge is not to ignore the technology and etiquette parameters. Make them work for you, not against you. Here are 10 things we’ve learned in terms of what works, and what doesn’t.
1. Smile and be in the moment
Even though you’ll be reduced to the size of a matchbox in a wall of faces, it’s important to always look engaged and welcoming during an online event. While you can’t tell who’s looking directly at you, assume all can.
It’s amazing how bored and distracted people look when they’re on ‘display’. Some are clearly also working on other things on their computer. If you’ve invested time in this event, be at the event. Give it your full attention and look welcoming and attentive throughout. Stand out for the right reasons.
2. Give yourself a neutral background
Beware a background behind you that’s distracting and set yourself up in a room with no clutter. A blank wall is far better than a messy one. You want to convince people you’re trustworthy and reliable, so pick a background that supports this.
Avoid undermining ones such as shelves messily crammed with papers and junk, a backdrop of household equipment (like ironing boards) stacked up, and kitchen surfaces piled with dirty crockery. Believe us, we have seen these! If you can’t move your computer then log into the event from your mobile, so you can switch to a neutral background.
Also beware some software options which let you superimpose a background behind you. These rely on backgrounds of certain neutrality. If those aren’t there, the effect can break up or cut round your shape in too sharp an edit. At worst you can appear see-through as if you’re being beamed in from an intergalactic planet on a poor connection.
3. Get the camera angle and lighting right
Your camera angle is crucial if you don’t want to appear that you’re looking down at people or up their noses. Instead, set the camera angle so people feel you are looking directly into their eyes. Practise beforehand with your respective devices and equipment.
Also, avoid having light behind or to one side of you as this will just put all or parts of you in silhouette. Many people wrongly sit in front of a window, but this just puts their faces in shadow. If needs be, invest in a ring light so you can be clearly visible.
4. Free up broadband so you don’t lose connectivity
While the lockdown has meant we’re all more tolerant of the challenges of technology, it’s hard to hold a conversation if your broadband is so stretched that you repeatedly cut in and out. Doing business remotely for the foreseeable future warrants an investment in stronger connectivity. If you have others in your home sharing the WIFI, ask them to ease up on any heavy streaming activities until your meeting is finished.
5. Let people hear you comfortably
This means not sitting in an echoey room that reverberates your voice and gives them a headache. Avoid high ceiling and expansive rooms. Speak up but don’t shout and, if the microphone on your computer isn’t great, invest in a headset and microphone.
6. Avoid clashing clothes
Be mindful that some patterns and colour combinations of clothes can distort on-screen. At worst, this creates animation like effects where patterns (particularly checks and stripes) start swirling. Ideally, pick a top of a dark single colour if you’re background is a pale one. Avoid clashing with what’s around you.
7. Use the chat facility
Software like zoom gives you a chat button to share messages with the whole group, or contact one of the attendees privately. If this event has lots of people, be sure to use the functionality so you definitely make contact with the people you want. Don’t be afraid to suggest to them getting in touch outside of the event and swap contact details so you can do this.
8. Adapt your introduction
Unlike traditional events where you probably would stand around in groups of 2 or 3, you are likely to be in bigger groups at an online event. You need to work harder to make your introduction ‘stick’ more in people’s minds. Here’s a helpful formula – clearly say who you are, your job title and your firm but then share some examples of how you’re helping customers in the current climate. Be relevant to the moment.
9. Uncover ways to help them
If the event lets you chat in small groups, find out what you can about the people you’re speaking with. Look for opportunities to keep in touch, and add value to them in some way…. so in time, they can reciprocate.
For example, find out what business opportunities they’re looking for in attending this event, what triggers you should be alert to which point to their expertise, services or products (so you can recommend them) and if there are any particular types of contacts they’re keen to bring into their network. Don’t be afraid to share what opportunities you’re seeking, but as a courtesy find out about them first.
10. Follow up
If you have captured contact details then be sure to follow up people after the event. This may involve reaching out to them on LinkedIn, sending an email, giving them a call, or fixing a one to one online meeting or one in a coffee shop. Remember, you’ll need multiple interactions to build their trust and encourage them to send business opportunities your way. Be timely with your follow up so they haven’t forgotten you. Where possible try and add value to them first, before seeking things from them.
Now more than ever, the challenging economic conditions mean businesspeople need to strengthen and grow their networks. Online events help you to expand your contacts but you need to create a positive impression, and use them strategically to generate positive results. Adapting your working environment to support you here is a worthwhile investment of time and money. Small affordable tweaks can make a big difference. And as it looks like being ‘online’ is likely to be the norm well into 2021, the question is what’s stopping you?