Maximizing your virtual networking potential

The Coronavirus Pandemic has compelled us all to shift abruptly to a virtual world, embracing video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype to conduct our normal business. This has certainly created challenges as we learn to operate in this new environment, but this virtual world has also opened up some new and exciting possibilities.  People all over the country – and the world-  have become more accustomed to meeting people and interacting virtually.  You can use this to your advantage to reach out and connect with people who would have otherwise been difficult or impossible to meet in person.

Most likely your campus career office and other supporting offices and organizations, like ours have moved all of their programming to a virtual format this year.   Here are some tips to help you make the most of the seminars, modules, and workshops that won’t be held in-person.  Many of these tips apply primarily to a “meeting” format, where you can be seen and heard on the video, versus a “webinar” format where you may not be visible.  Nevertheless, even in a webinar format, you can remain engaged by asking questions and following up with the speaker afterward via LinkedIn or other means.

While these are helpful practices for your local programming, they can also be extended to other virtual activities you may encounter over the coming year, such as meet-ups and other networking opportunities, conferences, informational interviews, or even job interviews.

Setting up for Success

Maximizing Engagement

Your name: Be sure to include your full name in your profile settings so that people will know who you are when you sign on to a session.  This is also a great place to include your preferred pronouns.   If you will be interacting with others outside of your institution, you can also include your university affiliation with your name. Order of appearance: If you are attending a large event, Zoom meeting sorts those with live video first, and in order of the time you join, so if you want to be on the first page of attendees and be seen, you should arrive and log in early or on time.  This is like sitting in the front row!  If you stop and restart your video, Zoom will put you back at the end of the live video images.  If you do not turn on your video, you will be on a latter page, in order of the time you join and likely you and your name won’t be seen, especially if there are several pages of attendees.
Your photo: Add a recent photo of yourself to your profile, so as you enter the meeting or have to stop your video, people will know who you are and can recognize and remember you. Video on: Keep your video on so it feels like you are part of the event, but don’t do distracting things like play with your hair, get up and down, or walk away and come back. Also make sure your camera is optimally aligned to show your entire face.
Virtual backgrounds: If your computer will support virtual backgrounds, set up some options in case your backdrop isn’t ideal and/or to provide more privacy.  These can include the standard images, pictures you find online, or a picture of your workplace or institution (and even your logo), which will help others to know where you are located. This will be particularly useful at a large networking event or conference.  At Vanderbilt, our IT department has even provided some high-quality backgrounds for the community to use, so look to see if your university has as well. Utilize the chat feature:  In a networking situation, you can use the chat feature to connect with attendees you know- – just acknowledging they are present with a private message to a single individual saying, “Hello, nice to see you here”, can open the door to reconnecting more later.  The chat is also a nice place to engage with the speaker or panel, asking questions and thanking them for their time.
Lights and camera: Maximize lighting and camera angle when possible. As with any video setup, don’t have a bright window behind you, and try to have your face illuminated evenly from the front.  Try to have your camera at eye level and not pointed up, so that the viewer sees your ceiling instead of your head.


Ask questions: Whether out loud or via the chat feature, asking questions helps to show you are engaged and makes you more memorable which will facilitate any follow-up you may seek to initiate after the event.


Sound:  Optimize your sound so that people can hear and understand you if you speak. This may mean investing in a headset or a higher quality external camera/speaker that is better than the one built into your laptop. Set up a practice call with a friend who can let you know how it is working. Respond to questions: When the speaker asks for the audience to participate by answering questions or giving feedback, try to participate, and help them out.  There is nothing worse than giving a talk and receiving silence on the other end.
Muting: Mute yourself upon entry and stay muted unless you have something to say.  You may want to consider using Zoom’s ‘Push to Talk’ feature which unmutes you when you hold the spacebar down on your keyboard and automatically returns you to mute when you release—this can minimize potentially embarrassing scenarios where you forget to re-mute yourself. Presentation: Present yourself in a professional manner (not your PJs) as you would for an in-person meeting.  Maintain good posture, don’t eat while you are on camera, stay engaged with the speaker rather than looking at your phone or other screens.

If you aren’t going to be able to pay attention free of distraction or if your internet connection is not strong enough to support video, then you may elect to turn your video off.   However, to make the most of your opportunities, try to be in a place with a solid, reliable internet connection and set aside time that you can commit to being a part of the program.

Other resources you may want to check out:

Virtual Meeting Etiquette:

Zoom Tools to Take Your Virtual Meetings to the Next Level:

How to Look Good in a Video Interview (Pre Covid tips that are still useful- even for networking scenarios):


About the Author:

Ashley Brady is Assistant Dean for Biomedical Career Development and Assistant Professor of Medical Education & Administration in the BRET Office of Career Development, ASPIRE Program at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.