By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
NANPA’s 2022 Nature Photography Virtual Summit is rapidly approaching. As with other events that have gone virtual during the pandemic, some things are different. Like networking. We’re used to seeing each other in person, meeting in the hallways of a conference center, having lunch together. The first couple of virtual meetings I attended were, well, kind of awkward as everyone figured out how to relate to each other over screens instead of drinks. By now, we’ve figured it out and we know at least seven things we can do to network effectively at a virtual conference. (Haven’t registered yet? Check out the top reasons to attend the Virtual Summit.)
What do you want to accomplish through networking? How will you know if you succeeded? It‘s important to have some goals as you prepare for a conference. Are you looking to connect with other attendees who live near you? With people who share the same interests? Find a mentor? Are you hoping to establish a relationship with others you can do business with? Are you trying to boost your own visibility and authority in your specialty area?
Having a clear set of goals and measures of success are the first steps in crafting a networking strategy.
Do your research
Research the speakers and session topics. Where are you likely to find the information you seek and the kinds of people you want to meet? Will the conference app tell you who else is attending? Which conference attendees match up with your goals? Check out their websites, Instagram, etc. You may find you have friends in common or other similarities that make introductions easier. Are there specific things about someone’s background or their session topic you want to ask about?
There is only so much time for networking at any kind of meeting. Doing your research homework helps you make the best use of that limited time.
Create a profile
What do you want other attendees to know about you? Most conference apps have a place for you to post a profile. This is your elevator pitch, not your complete CV. When you reach out to someone and they check your profile, what will make them interested enough to respond? What information will help the kinds of attendees you want to meet find you? While you’re at it, prepare a very, very short introduction that you can copy and paste into chat or messaging. Particularly in scheduled networking activities, it’s helpful to have one ready so that, instead of typing up an intro on the fly, you can concentrate on other people’s introductions and on what they’re saying. The weeks before a conference are also a good time to freshen up your social media accounts and website so they’re representing you properly.
First impressions matter. Put your best foot forward.
Use social media
If there are hashtags for the event (like #NaturePhotoSummit and #NANPASummit22) or for individual sessions, use them. Before the conference, put up a couple of social media posts noting that you’ll be attending, presenting (like Lewis Kemper, above), or exhibiting and why. Post your reactions to and takeaways from sessions and the conference. Search the conference hashtags to identify others who will be/are attending. Monitor the session and conference hashtags to interact with others who are talking about them.
You’ll want to be active and visible in session and networking forums. It’s often best to join the conversation with a thoughtful question or observation that will spark more conversation. Answer someone else’s question. Compliment someone who posted an astute observation or question. If you find a promising conversation beginning with another attendee, then consider switching to private or one-on- one messaging.
Perceptive comments and questions can show your expertise and interest in topics and individuals. These are also good opportunities for you to share helpful articles and relevant resources, including ones you have written or created.
And remember to listen more than you type.
The virtual event ends. You’ve met your goals and connected with new friends, clients, mentors, or vendors. Now what? Having a follow-up plan is essential to getting maximum benefit from your networking at the conference. How will you stay in touch? Who will you contact? When? About what? How will you maintain and nurture these new relationships?
It’s important to reach out shortly after the conference ends, while you are fresh in their minds, and not two months later, after you’re back from a trip to Antarctica and forgotten. So make some time for follow up in the week or two after the event.
Set aside time
Speaking of time, it’s easy to devote your full attention to others when you’re talking with them fact-to-face, but it’s tempting to schedule other tasks while attending a virtual conference. Heck, I’m just going to be sitting in front of a screen. Might as well catch up on accounting, or that e-mail campaign. Except all the research shows people can’t really attend to more than one thing at a time. If you’re working on something else, you could miss that perfect opening to connect with a potential client, that opportunity to answer a question, that chance to engage with one of the people you want to meet.
Keep conference time as conference time. NANPA’s 2022 Nature Photography Virtual Summit may be pretty inexpensive, but you’ve still invested your money in the registration fee and your time to attend. Don’t waste either by scheduling other activities at the same times.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog.