Networking can feel daunting, even in the best of times. Layer on the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and many of our usual opportunities for networking—in-person conferences, bar association happy hours, lunches—have stopped over the past thirteen months. It can be downright discouraging. Despite the challenges, there are still ways to effectively grow your professional network in the virtual environment if you’re willing to give them a try.
Explore opportunities within your current network. Chances are you already belong to a state bar section, a local bar association, a legal practice area organization, or a community group. Start there. Most associations and organizations have transitioned their in-person networking opportunities to virtual alternatives over the past year. Take a look to see what is being offered, and if it can provide a way to expand or enhance your network of relationships.
Who do you want to add to your network? Your time is valuable, so take a step back to think about your networking goals. The ABA’s Tips for Effectively Growing Your Network in the Virtual World asks, “Who is strategic for you?” Is your primary focus to make partner at the firm or move up in your organization? If so, identify the internal contacts that can help you grow professionally and build those relationships. If developing your book of business is key, think about potential clients and professional connections who can provide those referrals.
Virtual networking tips. Now that you’ve signed up for that virtual networking mixer, you’ll want to make the most of it (and mitigate the awkwardness). The Washington State Bar and JDSUPRA shared several helpful tips for legal professionals trying their hand at virtual networking, including the following:
- Hone the elevator pitch. Even from behind the computer screen, it is important to have a thirty-second answer to the question, what do you do? at the ready. Who are your clients, and what type of problems to do you solve for them?
- Video conference etiquette. It’s important to put your best virtual foot forward when meeting new contacts.
- Use a laptop or desktop if possible. Video quality and virtual platform functionality is often better on a computer versus a phone or tablet.
- Keep yourself on mute when you aren’t speaking so as not to capture the doorbell, kids, or inevitable dog barks.
- Test your camera and microphone before the event.
- Consider your video framing in advance. Try to have a light source in front of you rather than behind you, and position your computer so you are looking straight on or slightly up at the camera.
- A tidy, neutral backdrop is ideal (and it’s human nature to want to peek into a person’s home or office). Virtual backgrounds can be hit or miss. This Forbes article outlines the good (and bad) of Zoom backgrounds.
- Use direct messaging options. When in virtual networking settings, consider using direct message to chat with specific individuals to recreate the one-on-one side conversations that often happen naturally in an in-person setting.
- Connect through professional networking platforms after the event. Making a new connection at a virtual event is the first step. Connect on LinkedIn or send a follow-up email (find a sample follow-up message from the ABA here) after the event to help solidify the new relationship.