Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Networking

When it comes to meeting professionals without even having to leave campus, virtual networking—aka ‘attending’ an event to network with other professionals in your field over Skype, a conference call or even Twitter—is your BFF. Luckily for us, opportunities to network virtually are only increasing, which means that making connections to score you that killer internship or job is becoming easier.

Have a virtual networking event coming up? These tips will help you rock it.

1. Look your best

We all know that it’s totally necessary to rock the business casual look to networking events IRL, but believe it or not, you should also completely pull yourself together for a virtual networking event over video chat. Yes, that includes putting on pants! Cara Gargano, owner of Cara G Casting, a company that uses Skype to interview potential cast members for reality shows, says that looking the part is half the battle.

Related: 7 Steps to Ace Your Job or Internship Interview

“Always have your hair and makeup ready and dress the part,” Gargano says. “It's just as important for your surroundings to be put together because there is nothing worse than seeing a pile of dishes or laundry in the corner of the screen. Everything should be neat and tidy before you dial in.”

It’s a great idea to check your webcam prior to your networking session to make sure everything is in place. Is your dirty laundry visible in the background? Is the lighting flattering? While a virtual networking event might seem like a great opportunity to network from bed or in your PJ’s, that’s not suggested; if you look professional, you’ll be more inclined to feel and act professional while connecting with others in your field. 

2. Know your ‘elevator pitch’

Chances are that you don’t have your own business to pitch during virtual networking sessions (and if you do, you go girl!), but Deborah Sweeney, CEO of My Corporation, a company that provides services to clients starting their own business, says having an elevator pitch prepared to introduce yourself and market your own personal brand as a professional is always a good idea.

“Remember that you are your own business,” Sweeney says. “Come up with an elevator pitch that includes what you studied, what you're passionate about, and what separates you from like individuals. Selling yourself can be stressful and awkward for some people, but if you have a go-to elevator pitch in your back pocket you'll feel more confident than if you were speaking, or typing in the case of an online chat event, off the cuff.”

Whether your online networking event is conducted through video conferencing, over the phone or in a virtual chat room, you’ll need to be able to introduce yourself in a way that makes you stand out among other professionals. Think ahead of time about your strengths, accomplishments and experience before the event, so you’ll be prepared to wow them when the time comes!

3. Don’t let nerves get the best of you

When it comes to virtual networking events, since you’re not actually physically present, it can be easy to sit back and let others do the talking—but Diane Gottsman, an etiquette and leadership expert, says that this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

“Don’t wait too long to speak,” Gottsman says. “If you sit back and allow your nerves to take over, you will miss a prime opportunity to network and interact with a future employer.”

If you’re on the introverted side, it’s a great idea to prepare potential questions and talking points before the networking event and have them nearby on a sticky note or piece of paper.

If your event is happening over the phone, Gottsman also says it’s particularly important to pay attention to your voice and tone, since you’re unable to communicate through facial expressions or body language.

“Let them see you shine,” Gottsman says. “Although they may not be able to physically see you, your voice will form an impression. Make sure to smile when you speak and keep your tone upbeat and positive.”

Related: 7 Signs You Rocked Your Phone Interview

If you’re connecting over Skype, like at any other networking event, it’s important to keep your body language positive—smiling and nodding while other professionals are speaking is a great way to avoid any unintentional resting b*tch face from slipping in, and doing so shows you’re engaged and present!

4. Skype isn’t the only option

While Skype sessions with other professionals in the field you’re interested in are great, there might be other virtual networking opportunities you’re missing out on! Colleen O’Morrow, a marketing and sales specialist at the Columbus-based public relations firm MediaSource, reminds collegiettes to take advantage of Twitter.

“Twitter chats can be a great way to network with professionals!” O’Morrow says. “Map out some of your favorite professional groups and identify when they are hosting a chat. Once you are in the Twitter chat, be interactive not only with the chat hashtag, but also with others in the event. Retweeting, favoriting and replying are great ways to start interacting with professionals.”

Because everything you say on Twitter has to be done in under 140 characters, connecting on the social platform makes it easy and quick to network with professionals who you may not get the chance to interact with otherwise. Just remember to keep your online accounts professional before participating in any kind of networking on social media!

5. Follow up

Like with any networking event, it’s always important to follow up—but with an event where you possibly haven’t met face-to-face before, keeping in touch and staying memorable is particularly essential. Jeremy Schifeling, the CEO of Break Into Tech, says that the biggest part of creating connections is keeping up with them.

“Networking is about building connections that may only pay off years down the road, so the most important task is to stay in touch over the long-term,” Schifeling says. “This means connecting on LinkedIn or other social networks and then setting-up a system to remind yourself to check-in. For instance, on LinkedIn, you can even set a reminder directly on your new contact's profile—which will ping you to touch base every few months.”

Related: What You Should (& Shouldn't!) Do After an Interview

A major part of forming real, lasting connections over virtual networking is setting up a time to meet in person, if possible. While using social media and email to keep in touch is important, asking professionals you meet over virtual networking to meet for coffee or lunch in person is the best way to take the relationship to the next level!

Navigating a virtual networking event for the first time can be a little tricky, but the benefits from connecting with professionals you may not meet otherwise definitely outweigh the struggles—get ready to become a virtual networking pro!