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4 Key Ways to Make the Most of Virtual Networking Events

After more than a year of virtual meetings, video calls, remote work, and social distancing, most people are clamoring for good old fashioned in-person interaction. While we may not be ready for local meet-ups, business dinners, and happy hours quite yet, the most important part of those events—networking—is still critically important.

According to J. Kelly Hoey, networking expert, consultant, and author of the book Building Your Dream Network, “Everything we do right now—from sending emails to making calls to sending texts—is more important than ever. How we make people feel now is going to linger longer than these turbulent times.”

Nurturing relationships with your current network and creating new connections can be just as effective from your own home or office, but it takes discipline, effort, and perhaps stepping out of your comfort zone. Much like their in-person counterparts, virtual events and conferences are excellent venues for connecting with peers, thought leaders, suppliers, and even potential employers. But it requires more than merely attending. Hoey shared a few tips for building and cultivating your network at virtual events in a recent podcast.

Put your best foot forward. You wouldn’t walk around a convention center with a paper bag over your head and your name badge hidden. The same holds true for online conferences. Take the time to complete your profile, including your full name, company, position, and interests. Upload a photo. These simple steps can help people put a face to the name and make you seem much more approachable and open to connecting.

Be prepared. Log in ahead of time and check out all the features of the conference platform. There are more features in conference platforms and apps than you realize—get familiar with them so you can use them to connect with attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors. According to Hoey, “those features are one of the ways you create the collision points you’re missing by being unable to attend in person.”

Leverage social media before the event. We all know social media can be a powerful tool for virtual networking, so put it to work for you when attending virtual events. Posting in advance of an event has multiple benefits. Not only does it let people know that you are committed to your career and expanding your knowledge; it may also help you find others you already know who will be attending as well. In addition, it helps drive awareness about the event among people in your network who may also benefit from attending. If there are particular sessions or speakers you are excited to attend, posting about those will help you kick start conversations about the topics among your current network and potentially the speakers if you tag them in your post. Each of these actions can help create a more meaningful experience once the event arrives.

Engage during the event. You could absolutely attend the sessions you are most interested in, feverishly take notes, and walk away feeling like it was time well spent, but the experience will be much more valuable if you truly engage. Say hello and participate in the conference chat. Ask thoughtful questions and when you do, be sure to include who you are and what you do. Amplify what you are learning and hearing using the event hashtag on LinkedIn and Twitter. Search the event hashtag to find people who are discussing event topics you are interested in, and either like, comment on, or retweet the post to start a dialogue with your new connection. Attend not only keynotes and presentations, but also meetups and social events, and participate. In short, “exhibit behaviors that signal to others you are there to engage.”

It is critical for the health and wellness of your career to build a network of people who know you, respect you, and can speak to your strengths. Virtual conferences and events are the perfect place to make strategic connections and foster relationships while we await the return of in-person events. 

Put these tips to work at FIRST. Traditionally, the IFT Annual Event and Food Expo has been the place for science of food professionals to connect with everyone from researchers and academics to suppliers and entrepreneurs. While we await the return of safe in-person events, IFT has created FIRST—Food Improved by Research, Science, and Technology. FIRST is an AI-enabled, digital experience designed to provide you a personalized, solution-packed forum to solve problems, share knowledge, and expand strategic connections. Whether your interests lie in engaging in critical discussions impacting the food system like zero hunger, connecting one-on-one with suppliers and solution providers, exploring interactive product showcases, or digging into the latest research, the smart technology behind FIRST will help you find and network with the right people to advance your business and career. Learn more and register on the FIRST website. And after you do, make sure to use the event hashtag #IFTFIRST before, during, and after the event to make the most of your networking.

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