This conference season feels a bit different, doesn’t it? Where we’re usually globetrotting from event to event, most conferences this year have either been postponed or switched to online, remote-friendly formats, offering video sessions by top-notch speakers or live streams with open chats. But what about everyone’s favorite bonus during conference season — networking?

Thankfully, all is not lost. With a little ingenuity and virtual elbow grease, you can still forge new professional relationships over an internet connection rather than a cocktail. (And hey, nothing’s stopping you from enjoying a nice, frosty Moscow Mule or tasty mocktail in your home office space.) In our current reality of social distancing, marketing conference networking will look different, but it’s not going anywhere. Read on for tips on how to effectively network remotely!

Step 1: Look for networking opportunities

Depending on which virtual event you attend, the networking opportunities will look different. Keeping a creative eye out for opportunity is key to your success.

Virtual chats

Much like during regular conferences, there are bound to be live chats happening. They may happen on the actual event platform or they may take place on social media. Some events will use a platform like Zoom that allows viewers to interact with each other within the platform, while others may have more of a broadcast format where chats happen on Twitter with a hashtag.

Joining the conversation

An extremely valuable aspect of conferences is being able to speak to presenters after they give their talk. Sometimes this happens during a predetermined time slot, such as right after the presentation, or it may happen when you catch them in the lobby or at an event later on. Either way, this is the time to ask questions about their expertise and is a huge value-add to the experience.

With conferences going virtual and live chats happening publicly during the presentations, this conversing time has shifted a bit. Instead of having to wait for the presentation to be over, in some cases, presenters will reply to questions from the live chat as they are speaking.

Some panels are pre-recorded, giving speakers a chance to interact on various platforms during the event itself. Some events will even have specific “presentations” that are more like facilitated Ask Me Anything-style interviews or panels where questions are taken from the audience and posed to the speaker(s).

Birds of a feather discussion

Many conferences will offer some sort of industry or concept-specific conversation facilitation. These discussions are headed up by an industry professional and have predetermined topics. Other times, these conversations may be organised and headed up by attendees themselves.

In a virtual setting, these will likely be smaller breakout groups using some sort of video chat software. Zoom, specifically, has created a way for conferences to organise these “breakout sessions” in advance.

Birds of a feather conversations are one of the best ways to connect as there is a common ground established from the get-go. These are your people; connections here will likely be the most valuable.

Step 2: Be vigorous

No matter where the chats are happening, be sure you’re a part of them. The more you interact, the more likely people are to recognise your name when you reach out after the event. The only caution here is that you have to be sure your interactions are meaningful — don’t just comment for the sake of it. Add something valuable to the conversation.

Add your perception

The best thing about people is that we are all different and have fresh perspectives to bring to the table. Do not be afraid to add on to someone’s thoughts.

Add clarity

Speakers often try to fit a lot of information into a relatively short timeframe. That said, questions will likely arise in the live chats. This could very easily be your time to shine! If you have knowledge to share, feel free to answer the question to the best of your ability and try to add clarification.

This is one of the best ways to position yourself as an expert, and to form a relationship with someone you have never met. It allows you to prove you are knowledgeable and give the person something they value free of charge.

Add sources

Whether you are asking a question, answering a question, or just chiming in with added insight, adding resources in conversations is extremely beneficial. This could mean that you recommend a tool, a person, or an article link. These resources for the other viewers can be beneficial and help you establish your credibility.

Do not try to come up with a source for everything, if you have one right off the top of your head, dropping a link in the chat may really help someone.

Add people on social media

Adding influencers, presenters, or other attendees after interacting with them (even briefly) may increase your chances of getting a follow-back or accepted request, as you will still be fresh in their mind. Try to add people no later than 24 hours after your last interaction, and consider sending a friendly greeting with a note about what you spoke about to keep the connection fresh.

Step 3: Perfect your follow-up

After connecting with people during the online conference, you will want to follow up with them and stay in touch.

Look to first build a relationship. This could mean shooting a quick follow-up message recapping your conversation with the person or telling them that you appreciated their time and that you look forward to more conversations.

The best thing you can do when following up is to stick to what you are most comfortable with and be consistent while continuing to add value.

In-session Q&A chat

Mid-presentation, pop into the Q&A chat with your real-time questions and get them answered by speakers. You will also be able to chat with other attendees about the content, provide your own insights and participate in real-time virtual conversations about the session and topic.

Speakers will be available to answer questions during their scheduled session times, so it is a perfect opportunity to get clarification, further insight, or forge those all-important connections!

Create a list of people you want to meet

Browse attendee profiles and click “want to meet” when you find someone you would like to reach out to later. With your personal contact info safely hidden, this is a great way to find and get found by those looking for new talent, professional partnerships, debate buddies, and more. Build your list ahead of time, then review in-platform and reach out when you are ready.

One-on-one meetings

After connecting with someone, you can easily send him or her a meeting request to chat live outside of the bigger group discussions. Your invited guest can choose to accept or decline the invite, and all meetings occur directly within the conference platform’s meeting rooms, making for easy facilitation!

Have fun and be yourself

The number-one thing you have to offer is yourself. Your experiences make you unique and others can learn from them. So when you are connecting with others, just remember to be yourself. And lastly, have fun. Networking is meant to be fun as it gives you the opportunity to connect with others and build a community. Embrace that connection and enjoy it.