By Thabiso M. Mohlabeng and Koketso Mamabolo
With the onset of the pandemic, the opportunity to travel to a conference and meet other peers was suddenly no longer an option – but the rise of 4IR and advances in technology have provided a new, improved opportunity for international networking. Virtual conferences have seamlessly taken over from where in-person conferences left off.
They offer the opportunity to connect with even more people than before – without the travel time costs – and all the administrative details that go hand-in-hand with attending a conference in person.
But firstly, why attend a conference to begin with? Conferences allow you to connect and learn from your community. It’s where deals are made and few deals can be made without forming a relationship.
The opportunity for being in the same room with people from big business, the public sector, startups and academics is rare. Conferences make that possible, even when conducted virtually. The various communities become one.
Experience tells us that a conference is an ideal place to create partnerships across communities, which allows each group to connect with each other in order to scale up their brand.
But you also learn at conferences. Conferences are teeming with people and brands that have faced challenges and found ways to overcome those challenges. And a common thread around problem-solving is that those who solve problems are often willing to share how they did.
You also have an opportunity to get insight into trends and the opportunities available in your field. From speakers and other attendees you can learn about approaches and processes that have worked for others.
Here are some tips on how to network at a virtual conference:
1. Pre-event, tweet or post about the conference, do the same during the event. Tag speakers, businesses and comment on sessions, panels and the conference itself. You should also engage others who are tweeting about topics that interest you, and start a conversation. Always use the event #hashtag.
2. Share your full bio, contact information and professional photos so that others can find you when they search the list of participants. This little step will open doors for you. It will make it easier for others to engage you on the conferencing platform. It is a simple way of positioning yourself and your business to be a networking target for others.
3. Share insights on the event platform and showcase your expertise by engaging in event sessions. You can do this by commenting on topics and actively participating in live Q&As and moderated sessions. But don’t overdo it; two questions and/or comments per session so as not to hijack the conversation.
What about after the event?
4. Do your own post-event report and engage with the organisers of the conference. Even a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
And make sure you follow up. Once you’ve exchanged details and discussed partnerships, you need to follow up, whether that be an email or a message on LinkedIn. Networking is still possible. Use these tips to get the most out of virtual conferences.