With vaccination numbers on the rise in the U.S. and mask mandates falling in many places, the promise of a return to “normal” feels like it may be on the horizon. However, the process of building relationships between buyers and suppliers will not feel the same. Consider this estimate from McKinsey: 20 percent of business travel may never return.
As more conferences and trade shows prepare for a forever-hybrid future with some participants staying at home, now is the time to prepare your sales force to own the “room” — without ever stepping foot in a different physical space.
1. Be an active participant first — and a salesperson second.
Remember when you used to download the mobile app on the day you arrived at the convention center? The preparation felt like an afterthought: You went to the event because of the opportunities for serendipitous meetings. Without the ability to run into new connections, you need to prepare to make your own serendipity:
- Who’s on the attendee list?
- What kind of challenges are they facing right now?
- Can you send them an early invitation to connect via the app?
- What do you know about the topics on the agenda?
PRE-EVENT GUIDING PRINCIPLE: Come prepared with thought-provoking questions to ask and useful insights to share in a virtual breakout room or the chat feed of a session.
2. Record yourself — and be a brutal critic.
You can spend plenty of time arranging the perfect background, but your face is still the star of the show when you’re appearing on screen. Record yourself, and ask a colleague to watch and share candid feedback on your vibe:
- Are you smiling?
- Are you making eye contact?
- Do you tend to cross your arms and look defensive?
- Do you sit up straight?
- Are you fidgeting too much?
- Would you consider yourself to be the friendliest face you’ve seen today?
GRANDE TAKEAWAY: If you’re happy and alert, you can go a long way toward combating the Zoom fatigue that everyone fights when staring at a screen for too long.
See Also: Virtual Event Etiquette Guide
3. Brevity equals brilliance.
Whether you’re giving an informal sales pitch or you’re sharing a structured product demo, the online environment demands a more concise format than an in-person presentation. It’s easy for attendees to skip out of digital presentations with the click of a tab, so consider some key points:
- Do you capture attention within the first few seconds?
- If you were watching this presentation, when would you get bored and check your email?
- How can you reengage their attention at the “boredom point”?
- If you’re using presentation slides, can you replace some of the text with compelling visuals?
- Are there clear opportunities to pause and ask questions?
- Are there details that might be better utilized in a post-presentation follow-up?
IMPORTANT ALERT: Being concise doesn’t mean that your pitch needs to be rushed. Instead, it means that it needs to tell a story, focus on what matters and create an emotional connection that gives attendees a reason to stay. Follow this simple principle: If you can make someone smile, you can make them listen.
4. Eliminate your distractions.
Your screen — and the other screens next to you — can quickly derail a conversation. If your focus is on creating new connections, think about what matters now and what can wait until later.
- Consider turning on the “Do Not Disturb” function on your phone.
- Set yourself away on Slack.
- Minimize or exit your email inbox altogether.
- Pay attention to the chat feed to monitor questions and comments from attendees.
YOUR JOB: Do whatever you can to make each face on the other end of the screen feel like they are the most important person at the moment.
5. Smaller is better.
Face-to-face networking events often operate on the energy of the crowd, but bigger is better does not apply in virtual settings. If you’re hosting a happy hour, think of it the same way as hosting a VIP dinner:
- Keep the guest list focused to help everyone in attendance feel like they earned a coveted seat at the table.
- Break the virtual ice with an invitation to share a favorite song, a story from their first jobs, or another personal anecdote.
- Come with extra questions in your back pocket to keep the conversation flowing.
- Be inclusive and avoid letting any big personalities dominate the room.
BONUS POINTS: Blend the physical and virtual by sending two bottles of wine or artisanal coffees to their home. People love gifts, and people love knowing that you gave more thought than creating a calendar link.