We know that face-to-face interactions are generally better than online ones. In a Forbes Insights article, 85% of survey participants indicated that face-to-face conversations allowed for stronger and more meaningful relationships.

At the moment, these in person meetings are not common. It’s difficult to even travel across town, let alone to a provincial or national conference. As a result, online networking events are the best substitute. But just because a networking event is digital, doesn’t mean you can’t develop meaningful and valuable relationships.

In this article, we discuss three tips to get the most out of online networking events. Whether it’s a webinar, panel discussion, or digital happy hour, there’s no excuse to stop developing professional relationships just because of a pandemic.

Make sure that your video conferencing tech and space is ready

If you’re new to video conferences, you may not know how common glitches and problems arise that interrupt the flow. It may be a technical problem, like a wifi interruption, or a microphone muted. Or it could just be life getting in the way, like kids yelling in the background, or a dog barking. This is why you should ensure that you’re both technologically and physically prepared.

To make sure that technology is on your side, test your internet, webcam, mic, and computer beforehand. Ideally, try to schedule a call with a friend on the web conferencing app that the networking event will use. It’s a two-in-one strategy — you can catch up with a friend while figuring out whether your technology will be ready for your event.

You should also be physically prepared. This means finding a quiet, distraction-free place. Whether it’s a basement or office, ensure that you won’t have anyone barging in and making an awkward scene. Also, speak to anyone you’re living with to keep down the volume and leave you alone for the time that the event takes place.

Your environment should also be clean and clutter-free. Other people won’t only look at you but also your background. If you can’t find a good real-world backdrop, you can also access virtual backgrounds on some applications such as Zoom.

Go in with a plan 

To make the most out of the event, create goals and plans to reach those goals. Your goal could be to talk to at least four other attendees or schedule a coffee chat with a specific person. Maybe you’re attending this event for a particular reason, such as finding a job. Then your goal could be to engage with recruiters.

Another way to prepare is to look up the attendees beforehand. You can often find a list of the people attending for many online networking sessions. At the very least, events will post their speakers on the digital event page. Take a moment to search them on Google and add them on LinkedIn to see what their background is and get a sense of their career.

Lastly, if there are presentations or panels, try to research the topic they’re discussing. This way, you can create insightful questions or comments to help you stand out during the event.

Follow up with people and post about your experience 

Like a real networking event, following up with other participants is critical. The follow-up is the part that lets you develop real and genuine relationships as opposed to meeting someone once and never thinking about them again.

But following up is more than a LinkedIn request. If you’ve exchanged emails, then you can send them a message to recap what you and they discussed and possibly suggest meeting again. A light request for a second meeting, such as “let me know if you ever have the time to grab a coffee,” is an excellent way to approach it.

Another way to engage the attendees you met is to post about your experience on LinkedIn. This allows other attendees to engage with you and can open doors to developing those relationships. Whether it’s sharing a screenshot of everyone’s face on the Zoom call or just recapping what you learned, it’s a perfect opportunity to engage with your LinkedIn network.

Although the pandemic has resulted in large gatherings getting nixed, it doesn’t necessarily stop networking events. Online networking events may not be as good, but they’re the best alternative. And just because it’s online doesn’t mean you can’t come out with genuine and life-long connections.