Smart Networking Tips for Your First Virtual Symposium

By C&EN Media Group

A coworker is playing solitaire on their computer. A pair of ear buds lie on the desk while a slideshow plays off to the side. “What are you up to?” you ask.

“Listening to a webinar,” your coworker responds. How often has this happened?

Digital environments can be easy to disengage from, which makes networking at an event like a virtual science symposium potentially daunting, especially if you haven’t attended one before.

But when C&EN Media Group partnered with Bioconference Live to hold a virtual symposium in 2014, each sponsor generated an average of nearly 900 leads, proving that great networking at these events is more than possible. For science professionals, having geographic boundaries removed and a target audience in place is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.

So what makes a virtual networking event go boom or bust? Here are 7 tips to make your first – or any – online conference a success.

1. Engage. A virtual environment levels the playing field and affords everyone equal access to each other without crowds or lines. It’s a portal for engaging with potential customers, suppliers, end-users and marketers – anyone and everyone in your science space. You give away this advantage when you disengage and passively watch the action play out. Take the initiative to chat, ask questions and mentally ‘log in.’

2. Polish your digital handshake. As with offline networking, take the time to get to know new digital contacts by viewing their user profile, past publications, or through connected sites like LinkedIn (Forbes came up with a list of other great ideas). Make a goal of meeting one person you know will be there and do your homework before the conference: read their blog, visit their website, learn about their company. Don’t forget to give others the chance to do the same. Update your own information that may show up when they search for you by name. But if you only have time to update one thing, make sure you…

3. Complete your conference profile. A skimpy conference profile, especially one with no picture, consistently sends the same message: Nobody’s home. Few people register and interact with a bare-bones social media profile or a website that hasn’t been updated. Your profile initiates a conversation about you. It doesn’t need to be brilliantly clever or interesting, but it does need to say hello.

#CENSym144. Socialize. If you were at a live event, you’d go out for dinner or drinks with your peers. Be social at the virtual event, too. More than 80 percent of conference goers who are comfortable networking in person, are comfortable socializing online too, according to a joint report led by the Professional Convention Management Association. Find the people you meet on Twitter and ask them questions or share links and follow-up information. Connect with new contacts on LinkedIn and join new groups. (The conference hashtag is always as great way to see who’s involved and willing to network.) These instant connections secure contact information, but also solidify the relationships.

5. Call again. Virtual booths can remain accessible long after the event has closed. Sometimes for months. So don’t hesitate to drop in to collect some information or presentations you missed the first time around, or to touch base with a contact.

6. Leave tracks. Traceability is one key feature that sponsors love about a virtual environment. Tracking analytics serve as a valuable source of leads and information about a select audience. Take advantage of this: show them you’re interested by visiting booths, clicking links, signing up for emails and downloading materials. Let your name show up on their lists again and again, which is an especially good tactic if there is a career fair component to the event. Then let them reach out to you. Of course, if you want someone to know more about you than your web activity…

Don’t miss C&EN’s next virtual event, taking place September 16th, 2015. Registration to open this summer!

7. Complete your profile. We’re serious about this. If you’re still shy, post a science-related picture that relates to the work you do – a protein model, a mouse, even an Albert Einstein image. We bet you can do this right now.

Have you participated in a virtual event? What are your best practices for networking?

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