The past year has certainly brought forward a “new normal,” when it comes to the networking process. Regardless of the platform used such as Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook Video, and others we have all needed to take a pause and figure out how to best continue networking in this virtual world. As we approach WMCCAI’s Conference and Expo (C&E) I reflect on other networking events that were held during the pandemic. Some were extremely successful and others not as productive. To prepare for the upcoming C&E you might want to consider everything you have experienced and practice becoming more user friendly. Therefore, offering better networking. Besides, I suspect once the world returns to working as we did before COVID-19 the future will hold a hybrid of in-person and virtual meetings.
One thing almost every event requires is a little patience on the part of all attendees. The technology has been helpful to maintain networking, but it is rare that the process goes 100% smoothly. I give kudos to all meeting hosts who have had to juggle much more than eight to ten attendees at one time! For some reason one person always gets stuck in the waiting room, does not get placed into the proper breakout group, have working sound, or video even when they seem to be turned on. It is inevitable that someone’s internet connection freezes them mid-sentence or they start speaking while still muted. Prior to the call update your name for your device to include what company or community you are with. It will assist with speeding up introductions therefore leaving more time for the reason of the call. Think about how often someone’s name says “KP iPhone,”, “Company Name only,” or “Someone else’s name,” and you have to figure out a polite way to ask who they are. That is simply awkward!
Test your video and sound setup prior to the meeting. Remember that not everyone is comfortable or capable of being on video. If that is the circumstance, then it’s polite to note verbally or in the chat that you won’t be on camera.
Keep in mind that you want your camera at eye level or slightly higher (from above is generally a more flattering angle). No one needs to look up your nose during a meeting or only be able to see the bottom half of your face. There is nothing worse than someone using a virtual background and they fade in and out during the meeting like a ghost. How can anyone pay attention when you are waiting to see what disappears next? Perhaps you need to use a greenscreen for your background to look clearer. Did you know that the camera can be confused between green(ish) clothing and the green screen feature? All of a sudden, your body disappears and only your head is visible. These hiccups can be very distracting for yourself and your audience when you are the focus of the conversation. Do your due diligence and practice with the platform required so you can see how you will appear to the other person.
Some additional tips to make the best of virtual conferences are as follows:
Make a game plan: If possible, exhibitors might invite attendees to visit your virtual trade booth. Or attendees can research who will be participating at the event so you can create a schedule of what booths you will visit and which seminars you want to attend.
2. Switch up your surroundings: Attending an in-person conference at a trade center or hotel ballroom feels much different than a virtual event from your office or home. Exhibitors might consider using a virtual background or set up your booth display in the background for your calls. This will tell attendees who you are from the moment they enter the meeting.
3. Minimize Distractions: When on virtual calls it is tempting to multi-task. Make a rule to be present for the purpose at hand! If working from home do your best to have television, radio, kids, and pets quiet around you or find a space that is interruption free. (I know…easier said than done!) View the conference on your full screen. It might also help to take notes with pen and paper, so you are not toggling between different windows on your computer.
4. Move your body: We have all learned what “Zoom fatigue” is from sitting on calls all day. It affects our energy and focus. Remind yourself to stand up, stretch, and take a break whenever possible. You might even consider standing for a couple of sessions. Only if you have the set-up to stand with the camera at the correct height. You do not need your crotch appearing on camera to be the talk of the entire event for weeks to come.
5. Connect with other attendees: This is why each of us registered in the first place! Look for ways to interact with members on the call. Prepare a few questions as ice breakers to start conversation but avoid those that only “yes” or “no” might be the answers. Position your camera in front of you so you appear to be looking at the person/people while you speak. If you have a camera on one side and view the screen from a different angle, then explain this detail to others. It seems rude in person when you speak and do not make eye contact. Being on video does not change the fact that eye contact indicates you are focused and not multitasking. If multiple people are in the breakout room, then make use of the chat feature so you are not cutting the speaker off but can still interject in the conversation. The host or a designated person should be monitoring the chat box. If the event is publicized on social media remember to use the hashtag to join the discussion.
It is my opinion that the best discussions are one-on-one video meetings. The video appearance builds a stronger connection with the other person than via email or even telephone. Unless someone has a really good poker face, facial expressions can speak volumes that voice tone and inflection cannot. Typically, a set amount of time such as 7-15 minutes intervals are scheduled with a one-minute warning prior to the session ending. The most successful programs at which I participated allowed two-minutes between scheduled meetings. Anything much shorter goes by too quickly. Much longer than 15-minutes and you risk encroaching on the professional’s/homeowner’s day. A 2-3-minute break allows for enough time to jot final thoughts or contact information down, use the restroom, refill a beverage, or check for urgent emails before the next conversation.
The second most productive networking has been via breakout rooms with fewer than ten people. As long as one person is designated to “lead” the discussion or help expedite introductions – breakout rooms can be very effective. Think of them as approaching a small circle of people standing and speaking at a happy hour. It might include fairly superficial, casual chatter but the introductions might prove to be invaluable. Remember that the same courteous etiquette in person still applies in the virtual world. First impressions are typically lasting impressions so make networking the best you can.
By Kara Permisohn, EBP
Kara has proudly worked in business development for Minkoff Company since 2004. She has enjoyed serving on the Washington Metro Chapter Community Association of the Year (CAY) and Quorum Editorial Committees for many years and is the currently the vice-chair of the CRCCAI Golf Committee. Kara is a past president of the Chesapeake Region Chapter and has served on both WMCCAI and CRCCAI boards of directors. Her involvement with WMCCAI has also included serving and/or co-chairing the Events, Golf, and Outreach Committees. Other accolades include earning her Educated Business Partner (EBP) designation, the WMCCAI Rising Star in 2005 and Committee Co-Chair of the Year in 2011.