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Networking in Virtual Breakout Rooms

Parachuting into unfamiliar situations isn’t easy. And regardless as to how familiar you are with virtual meetings, conferences and events, networking in a virtual breakout room isn’t easy.

Even an outgoing person can feel overwhelmed. Not only do I speak from experience, but research has shown Zoom fatigue in extroverts can make conversations less satisfying they can’t rely body language and visual cues that are important to that personality type.

You could hope for the best and cross your fingers that you’re in a room with great conversationalists who can get the conversation going. Or you could spend a few minutes preparing for those interactions, thinking through what you’ll say and strategizing an approach that maximizes your networking opportunities.

As a sports reporter, I often parachute into situations (and locker rooms) where I’m required to have conversations with people I don’t know well, or in some cases, people I don’t know at all. I know that building rapport quickly makes all the difference in having meaningful conversations that lead to quality relationships.

That should be the goal in any networking situation. With that in mind here are 5 ways to build rapport when you don’t know anyone in your virtual breakout room.


  1. Make your first impression count. Relationship building starts with first impressions. Your first impressions in a virtual space are built almost entirely on what your audience, that is, the people in your room, sees. Your facial expressions and body language sets the tone for the type of interactions you’ll have. Are you smiling, engaged, enthusiastic and interested or are you slouching, distracted, multi-tasking, frowning and overall looking disinterested? 

The way you show up on camera is part of your brand and your first impression.


  1. Be polite. You don’t need to come up with an elaborate intro or say something clever or witty right off the bat. Just be polite and courteous. Saying something like, “Hi, my name is Jen.” Or “What’s your biggest takeaway from this event so far?” is a perfectly polite way to get the ball rolling.


  1. ‘Fess up to your feelings. If you feel overwhelmed at being in a breakout room with people you don’t know, say something. It might sound like this, “I’m happy to be here, but feeling a little overwhelmed at not knowing anyone here.” It might seem awkward to admit your anxiety or stress over the situation but putting it out on the table demonstrates honesty and vulnerability which helps in building rapport.


  1. Get on a First Name Basis. Open-ended questions and thought-provoking statements don’t facilitate conversations among a virtual group UNLESS you make it clear who should be responding. Get on a first name basis with the people in your room and direct your question or comment to a specific person, not the group as a whole. Without specific instruction you’ll likely to experience awkward silence or a cacophony of people talking over each other, neither of which further the relationship-building process.

Making it easy for people to respond and engage builds rapport.


  1. Understand Time and Place.  There is a time for everything and you’re not the only one in the situations with goals and tasks to accomplish.  If a specific conversation isn’t going the way you’d hoped take a break.  There’s a good chance it’s not a good time for the person you’re speaking with.  You’ll get much further in the rapport building process if you come back to that person later.

Building rapport is a critical part of networking and building relationships. As more events prepare to return in person, these techniques still apply. Be intentional and strategic with the opportunities you get to interact and expand your network.



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