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by Paul Wilson
September 10, 2020
by Paul Wilson
September 10, 2020
Now that we're launched into this new digital age, we're reeling from the bumpy transition between the real and the virtual. We still expect that the way we previously engaged can be replicated with just a few tweaks in the digital world, but those social constructs are being stressed because when digital connections replace human ones, the human can get lost. Finding value and meaning in our new digital relationships is up next on our virtual meeting agenda.
This is nothing better than when like-minded strangers are tossed together for an industry conference, ready for mingling and chatting — the lifeblood of networking. According to a new survey of 700 people conducted by The Harris Poll and Code & Theory, 44% said they expect virtual events to have some form of networking.
We are redefining workplace terms at a rapid pace. On the job now means "in my living room" for many workers. "Can we meet now?" means jumping on Zoom. Before COVID, the digital tools we used to communicate were a way to streamline our work and make those connections easier; they weren't the main event. Now how you show up, enunciate, and be inclusive can help establish you as a human being in the digital world. You can use technology to become more meaningful and intentional to chart your path to success.
Here are five ways to get more human at virtual events.
A virtual event can be your opportunity to get attention from people you want to meet — especially if you don't thrive in crowded environments. Spend time ahead of the conference researching the speakers, network ahead of the event with colleagues, and map out your networking goals. Prepare questions, introductions and laser-focus on who you want to meet. When you register for the conference, poke around the platform. If it's one you're not familiar with, learn what technology is available to help you make those connections. Most are intuitive, but if you're not scrambling to understand how to chat in a breakout room during the actual talk, you'll be better able to seize the moment and make the connections you want. Find out if slides will be available for the talks you plan to attend. That way, you won't have to take so many notes and can ask questions in the chat box during the talks.
Pre-COVID, small talk in the virtual world was an afterthought requiring a thumbs-up emoji or a LOL smiley face. Real connections at conferences were made in person over coffee and cocktails, sharing photos of our dogs and our kids. But small talk — the stuff you use to get to know someone — is more important now more than ever, especially at virtual conferences. It can be a door opener. Connecting through small talk will help make us all more human.
When you attend a virtual conference, you're no longer a spectator; you're there to engage. So dress the part. If the event organizers have asked you to come wearing a goofy hat for the first keynote, do it. (Some will, I'm sure). Plan to show up, to speak, to use props, to include others in your conversations. Many virtual event platforms allow for chat rooms alongside keynotes. Join in, ask questions, comment and connect. Share your virtual business cards through the platform or via Linkedin. This is the start of your informal networking. You have to build digital connections.
One of the benefits of working from home is that we have gained a window into our colleagues' lives that helped to round out the picture we had of them. Are they cat-crazy? Plant people? Art collectors? It was all there for the gazing and I, for one, say hooray. But how well will those intimate views of strangers' work spaces play when we head into the brave new world of the virtual conference? We may be more open to accepting our colleagues' collection of Grateful Dead posters, but will it play in virtual Peoria? Set up your background for the story you want to tell about yourself to your new connections. Make sure your face is well lit. Hoist your video up to face level. If event attendees are all on video, use a prop or two to make yourself memorable.
Whether you're a speaker or an attendee, you're likely to be pulled into a breakout group. It's a smart way to make events more personal. Turn off your cell phone, shut down your social media profiles and be fully present and engaged. Think of it as an opportunity to directly engage with someone who, at an in-person event, may have been sitting at another table or on the other side of the room. These small moments can lead to bigger ones.
Deep human connections are attainable in 2D as well as 3D. We just need to make the necessary adjustments and take advantage of all that's now possible in the virtual environment. So, don't hide behind your screen; use it to put yourself out there in new and different ways.