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How to prepare for virtual networking at an event

With our annual Conference coming up, we’re sharing our tips on how to get ready to virtually network. 

We know many returners find the idea of attending a virtual conference or event quite daunting. You may be wondering what it will be like to use new technology and to interact with others in a virtual world, when past events you attended were in person. The beauty of a virtual event is that you can access a wealth of information and connect with experts, employers and others in a similar situation to yourself, without the cost and inconvenience of travel, or logistics and health risks in this current climate. In most cases (as with our Conference), you can also access recordings of anything you missed or something you want to watch again. We’ve put together some tips to help you with preparing beforehand and attending on the day. With good planning and preparation on your part, you can really ensure you get the most from the event.

Virtual set up: Firstly, be reassured that the technology for virtual events is designed to be easy to navigate. There will always be people online to contact for support and to help with any tech issues. You will be sent joining instructions and it is a good idea to register before the day and make sure that you have access to the correct apps, weblinks and passwords.  Give some thought to what you want to wear to look professional but to feel comfortable. Try to find a quiet place in your home where you are less likely to be disturbed or invest in a headset. It can also be a good idea to think about what is going to appear in your background. Don’t forget to mute yourself on the day (if needed) when you aren’t speaking.   

Set yourself some goals: Think about your motivations and reasons for attending the event in the first place. With our Conference, it might be that you want to build your confidence, connect with other returners, find out more about returner opportunities or start thinking about your interview technique?  Perhaps it is all of these things and more. Once you are clear on why you are investing your time, money and energy in attending a virtual event then break things down into specific goals. This may be to speak to two other returner attendees at the networking 1-2-1 video chats or to ask some specific questions to a particular employer sponsor. Achieving your goals will be a boost to your confidence. Just make sure your goals are achievable so that you don’t feel too much pressure. And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back when you’ve achieved them!

Plan your introduction: Although one of the workshops will cover in detail how to improve your self-marketing and develop your professional introduction, it’s a good idea to have a brief introduction prepared. This will increase your confidence and help you to feel prepared for a networking chat or a more targeting discussion with an employer sponsor. This needs the following: your name, a brief description of your professional background, a mention of your career break, and your reason for being at the conference. You may want to include the reason for and length of your break, but don’t make talking about your break the full focus of your introduction. It might help you to practise saying your introduction out loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.

Prepare topics: Whether you’re focused on asking questions at the employer power hour, networking with other returners, or both, it’s a really good idea to do some advance preparation. Research the individual employers online and develop those questions you want to ask. Think about what you’d like to find out if you have a 1-2-1 virtual chat with another returner – asking questions when you meet someone new is an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation means you can arrive at the virtual conference confident that you’ll have something to say to the new people you meet. 

Develop ongoing connections: If you connect with other like-minded women, this could be the start of your return-to-work support group! You can decide to share email contact details in the networking sessions and/or use LinkedIn to connect in a more professional sense (just make sure to note down their full name!). After the event, you can also use our private LinkedIn and Facebook groups to find and connect with other returners.

For more general tips on how to network successfully, check out our Advice Huband How to network virtually