Networking has its challenges as I’ve written about previously.
During this era of virtual meetings, which have flourished during the Covid-19 pandemic, we find ourselves doing more networking than ever by Zoom (or Skype, Facetime, etc.).
Despite the advantages these tools have over the telephone (primarily, being able to “see” the other person during the session), there are a number of challenges I’ve observed.
Lack of small talk. When we meet new people in person as part of networking, we usually engage in small talk to establish rapport (e.g., hobbies, sports scores, comments about the food if we’re enjoying appetizers or a meal as part of the activity). That seems to be lacking a bit in the virtual networking realm, where I find that people often feel they have to “get down to business” right away. So, the next time you’re in a virtual networking situation, allow yourself and others time for small talk.
Arriving and/or departing as a group. Walking in or walking out of a networking event with other people has its benefits. Again, just engaging in “get to know you” small talk often happens this way. Or, a quick exchange of business cards, finding and connecting on LinkedIn via our smartphones, or taking a few moments to book a future meeting – these all happen during the simple process of physically arriving/leaving an event with new acquaintances. Some of this can be overcome by sharing your contact information in the chat tool and encouraging others to share theirs, and then downloading that information before the Zoom session ends.
When it’s over, it’s over. When everyone signs off from a virtual meeting, it can feel rather abrupt. One minute you’re talking with people, the next minute, the entire exchange is over and everyone is gone. You don’t get the benefit of the any further small talk and the lingering, departing conversation with others mentioned above. While there seems to be no ideal solution for this, if your schedule allows (and if you’re the host), you can always offer up another 10 minutes for people to take their time leaving and end those conversations more naturally.
No eye contact. Are you finding that people often have their video turned off during virtual networking? Not “seeing” people during virtual networking makes it more difficult for others to connect. And if you don’t know individuals well enough, it may feel awkward to ask them to turn on their video. One way I approach it is to be a little lighthearted with the request by saying something like “even if you’re having a bad hair day, I don’t mind.” People have come to be a lot more accepting of the fact that the home environment (kitchen, basement or the like) is perfectly acceptable during these kinds of meetups.
So, while it’s not perfect, we can find ways to use the technology tools that are available to connect us virtually.