While networking is challenging under “normal” circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, including the dynamics of networking at a (virtual) conference.
Having worked in non-profit associations for nearly twenty years, I’ve had conversations with attendees at all levels – from the junior-most student attendees to senior leaders. One commonality across all fields and levels, nearly all conference attendees get the conference jitters. There is excitement, of course; however, there is also a bit of the unknown, which is when professionals tend to get nervous
This guide will briefly walk you through what to expect at the virtual Annual Research Meeting (ARM), how to prepare for networking at the conference, and provide you with a few tactics to help you expand your network.
What to Expect
Networking at a virtual conference has its own set of challenges. While you don’t have to worry about walking up to a group to join a conversation already in process, knowing some of the challenges ahead of time can help you navigate virtual networking in real-time.
A few big ones to keep in mind on both the sending and receiving end:
- The “response gap” – We all have our style of responding to text messages and a challenge with online chats is there will inevitably be a response gap – the time between sending your message and hearing back from your contact.
- The “feedback loop” – Tone, facial expressions, body language, and other indicators that come across in person, are not always possible with online networking. While a joke or sarcastic response might be meant for a lighthearted quip, it’s worth the extra bit of effort and a minuscule amount of time to think through how that will come across online.
- “Running” into someone in the hallway – Virtual events are not conducive to a serendipitous encounter with just the right person, but they have a unique feature in-person events don’t have – you can scan a couple of areas in the online platform to see if your contact is present. Preparing for a virtual event is essential.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Networking is usually one of the top benefits attendees appreciate about the ARM, and the virtual ARM can help you network effectively. There are a few areas that will give you a worthwhile return on your time investment.
- Identify your main (networking) objective. Are you looking for funding opportunities, mentors, new job opportunities, or something else? Once you are clear on what you are looking to achieve with networking, then it’s time to identify the people who you should consider reaching out to.
- Make a list of HSR professionals attending the virtual ARM. Now that you have identified your main goal for networking, it is now time to identify the individuals you would like to meet. This can be anyone from researchers in your niche area, professionals employed by specific organizations or individuals working for organizations that could be great partners for your research. The online agenda makes this very easy.
- Open the ARM agenda to create your list. Review the online agenda and note any speakers, attendees, exhibitors, and podium presenters with whom you want to touch base. Once logged into the virtual ARM platform, you can use the “Now Attending” feature, to see who is participating in the live, virtual event at any time. You can also search attendees by their demographic and/or professional information, see their profile picture (if uploaded), and connect.
- Create your introduction spiel. Creating an introduction spiel is a great time to take stock of who you are, what you do and the connections you are looking to make at the virtual ARM. Tailor your personal story to each group of individuals you are hoping to meet. Here are a few examples to get you started. It’s very important to remember, networking is a “give and take”. Regardless of where you are in your career – from the most junior to the most senior level – everyone has something to offer that is unique and valuable.
Here are a couple of examples:
Example 1: Hi, I’m Richie Johansson and I work for ABC Health system based in Cleveland, Ohio. I specialize in behavioral health for teenagers. I am looking to connect with researchers at health systems nationwide to do a comparative study. Can we chat during the networking break at 11:00 am Eastern? (It’s important to use the time zone as your contact might be on the West Coast while you are on the East Coast.)
Example 2: Hi, I’m Grace Silver, a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I’m seeking professional opportunities in federal government agencies in the northeast. I see on your profile that you work for DEF Federal Agency. Will you have time to meet for “coffee” via zoom after the ARM?
Update Your Online Profiles to Match Your Personal Brand
Social media is a great way to establish yourself in the health services research and health policy field. Not only does it enable you to increase the visibility of your work, it also makes a much wider audience accessible to you. To set your best foot forward at the virtual ARM, update your online profiles. A polished online profile will help you build your personal brand and “dressing for the position” you want – whether that is excelling in academia, jumping over into federal government work, or going into the private sector.
One of the biggest tips that has helped me navigate online networking is seemingly small, but instantaneously builds trust: add your photo/headshot to every professional online social networking platform (ideally the same photo). This means, before you begin networking on the virtual ARM platform, upload your headshot. And, set aside 15 minutes to take a professional headshot, which can be done easily with a smartphone. Not only does this help build trust, but it also helps you establish your personal brand. Additionally, speaking from personal experience, when networking online, I’m very wary of messages that come from individuals who do not have a profile picture. Those individuals who have profile pictures AND their profile pictures matches across all of their social media profiles are the individuals that instill the most trust in me and have a much higher likelihood of receiving a response.
As you prepare for ARM, it is a great time to audit of your social media profiles. You’ll want to make sure they’re appropriate, professional, and complete. During a virtual conference, your online social media profiles are your opportunity to make a favorable first impression to new contacts, potential partners, and future employers. Just as wearing a new, crisp outfit to a conference, a newly updated social media profile, with a professional headshot helps build your confidence to navigating the event. Follow the 2020 ARM hashtag #ARM20 to find others attending the event and see what your fellow attendees are saying throughout ARM!
Your profile on the virtual ARM platform is the first place to add a picture to help your potential contacts put a face trust that you are (a) a real person and (b) by using the same photo/headshot across all of your professional platforms, it provides your contacts with the confidence that they are reaching out to the correct person and builds trust.
Create Thoughtful Interactions at the Virtual 2020 ARM
Lastly, it’s time to actually approach the professionals you have identified as key to your networking strategy. So, where do you go next? There are many opportunities to network within the online ARM platform – from sessions to networking chats to the exhibit hall. I’ll walk you through how to best use each of those areas.
- Concurrent and plenary sessions will have chat rooms available during the session. If you identified a particular speaker, be sure to attend their session and comment during the session. Afterwards, follow up and reference some of the comments during the session. Session chats are also a great place to meet individuals not on your current list. If someone leaves a comment or asks a question that you want to learn more about, follow up with them directly.
- The Networking Lounge is a place to “hang out” virtually with other ARM registrants. This is a perfect place to use your “prep work” and test out your intro spiel. Informal chats are scheduled nearly each day and is a great place to meet a diverse group of researchers.
- The ARM Exhibit Hall will be available for you to browse at your own pace. Staff members for exhibitors will be in their booths and ready to answer your questions. While you’re in the exhibit hall, stop by the AcademyHealth booth. We’ll be super excited and waiting to hear from you.
We look forward to seeing you next week. Good luck building your network. See the full ARM 2020 agenda online and if you have not already, register here.