Virtual events have allowed event planners and organizers to avoid canceling events and carry on during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, one of the primary challenges associated with this digital format is maintaining networking opportunities. Many people attend virtual conferences, trade shows, career fairs, and other similar events hoping to meet other industry professionals and interact with industry thought leaders. When you can’t meet in person, how do you ensure those opportunities exist?Fortunately, we have some possible networking solutions that should help. The following list is comprised of things you can include in your online event to ensure that your attendees can connect with presenters and each other in deep and meaningful ways. https://youtu.be/c-AGJYIz2_w
One of the easiest ways to include networking opportunities in your event is to plan for them in the event agenda or schedule.Plan for specific breaks in the content where you can supply virtual meeting rooms or planned icebreaker sessions. Following a session from a keynote speaker at a virtual conference, for example, schedule a session for attendees to gather and discuss the information they just heard/received. This will give attendees an opportunity to engage more meaningfully with the event content and connect with and learn from, one another. Setting up breakout sessions throughout the day will provide similar networking opportunities to your virtual attendees. Because most people attend industry events looking to network, these sessions will stand out to potential attendees and know that you have taken their needs into consideration during the planning process.
For an attendee, the virtual experience is often a solitary one. Live chat can help add value to the event and improve the overall event experience. Live chat encourages real-time discussion and interaction between participants and presenters or vendors. For live sessions like a keynote address or product demo, make sure that you have a moderator in place, watching the text chat, to pull audience questions and deliver them to the presenter. During a live webinar, consider adding a Q&A to the end of the session or arm the virtual audience with prompting questions that might get them thinking deeply about the subject and encourage them to engage more actively with the chat features. Depending on the size and scale of the individual sessions, chat options can include text and live video. Video chat is particularly useful and effective for vendors at a virtual trade show or expo. The more you can do to encourage engagement during the sessions, the more likely attendees will be to participate in the available chat options.
A cocktail hour is a great way to connect people during a live event. But just because you’ve moved online, it doesn’t mean that this type of fun can’t be included in the virtual event experience! Look for a virtual event platform like Accelevents that allows for a virtual cocktail hour. To add to the fun, consider placing a theme on this session. People may find it fun to dress up and express themselves during this lighthearted get together. Another way to encourage participation during this session is to send a beverage of some sort to attendees in your registration package. For localized events, consider a local craft beer, wine, or special non-alcoholic treat. To reduce shipping costs, include a voucher or gift certificate that can be used to order something for the date of the event.
Make networking fun. Gamification takes the fun and competitive elements of gaming and applies them to non-gaming scenarios. Trivia competitions and scavenger hunts can all be turned into team games, encouraging event attendees to work together towards a common goal. Working together in this manner can make it easy for an event attendee to virtually connect with others. It encourages engagement with the content but also engagement with one another.
As a platform, social media presents a number of opportunities for online networking.Creating social media profiles for your event on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is a place for your audience to start creating meaningful connections. Post related content, ask questions, hold ticket giveaways, respond to comments, and encourage people to engage with one another. This can be done in advance of the event to set expectations and generate buzz but it can also be done during the event. Not everyone that wants to attend your event will be able to so consider live streaming some of the sessions or live-tweeting the event. This is an effective event marketing tool as it gives your event a wider reach but also creates more opportunities for individuals to connect and network both online and off. To improve networking opportunities and create a greater chance for each participant to find a like-minded fellow attendee, create specific groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. These groups can be themed around a particular session or topic to focus discussion and qualify the participants. Make sure that you link to your social media pages from your event website and let the audience know in email communications that these pages and groups exist. If no one knows about them, how can they make use of them?
Similar to creating virtual meeting rooms, a virtual lobby or lounge is another space where virtual attendees can gather. At a physical event, much of the network starts in between sessions when people are milling about in common spaces. A virtual lobby can offer these benefits in a digital format.
In order to improve the networking connections being made, consider providing attendees with a list of targeted connections. With targeted connections, your virtual attendees will be determining which of their fellow attendees they would like to meet. During the registration process, include a short survey that narrows down their interests and the types of people they are most interested in networking with. From there, the surveys can be run through a matching algorithm to create a list that is specific to each individual’s expressed hopes for the event. With participant permission, the names and contact details can be shared, giving attendees the ability to network on their own time, outside of the event space. These lists can also be used in other ways. They can be used to create ‘speed dating’ style one-on-one networking sessions or they can be turned into a game. Give each participant a list of questions to ask each of their contacts and the one who is able to connect with the most contacts and get the most answers wins. A successful virtual event hinges on a number of factors but the quality of networking opportunities is likely to be the one that stands out the most. People will not pay to attend your virtual event if you are not able to offer opportunities similar to those of physical events. By working networking solutions into your event, you will be able to draw a wide audience of interested individuals while providing an engaging and satisfying attendee experience. When you are ready to start planning your virtual event, reach out to Accelevents to learn more about all the ways we can help you create and foster networking opportunities for your attendees, presenters, vendors, and sponsors.