5 Tips to Boost Networking at your Virtual Event

August 18, 2020

As with pretty much all aspects of life, the pandemic has reshaped the way we relate to our businesses. Especially, event organizers have had to reimagine the way they approach their work by pivoting from face-to-face events to virtual conferences, meetups or webinars. This has meant everything from adapting the event itself to a virtual platform, to tailoring its communication strategy, rethinking their goals, and reimagining what the ideal scenario looked like – all in the span of a few months.

However, while their approach has been transformed, the reasons why people choose to attend a business event have not changed. Naturally, learning possibilities continue to rank first among attendees, as events offer the possibility of hearing from thought leaders in their field about a specific topic. But the second biggest reason people have for participating in an event has to do with the networking opportunities these gatherings offer. The fact that business events have now been reimagined as virtual conferences hasn’t affected this need. In fact, participants are still expecting networking opportunities to be part of the deal, so much so that over 80% of event attendees agree that digital events will need to account for networking and engagement, in addition to learning, in their planning (2020, Freeman).

How to Facilitate a Networking Event

Due to the overwhelming need for a solid engagement strategy in regards to online events, organizers can sometimes feel stumped when it comes to planning next steps. 

Boosting networking opportunities at virtual conferences can sometimes feel a bit daunting, but the truth is, it doesn’t have to be. Take a look at these tips, combine them with your own networking event ideas, and start planning your next online event :

1. Use a Virtual Events Platform that Focuses on Networking Events

This one’s a no-brainer. Technology, and especially virtual events software, has evolved at a rapid pace and offers today more options than ever for organizers to plan their event. Make sure your attendees know the different networking opportunities they’ll face during your event right from the start. This can mean both emailing them about them a few days before your event and, on the day of your conference, greeting them with a message that facilitates the chance of setting up one-on-one virtual meetings, video calls, and appointments. In addition, ask them to fill out data about their interests and what they’re looking for beforehand. That way, you can create a few select chat rooms based on similar interests or suggest they join breakout sessions to facilitate networking.

2. Boost social media engagement before the event

The impact of a robust social media strategy can’t be stressed enough, and it all comes down to engagement. Post relevant questions, share information about your speakers and kick start discussions about the topics that will be touched upon at your event online. That way, you’ll spark your attendees’ interest and keep them engaged until the day of your conference.

In addition, make sure that even before your event starts, participants know where to find you on social media in order to follow the live conversation. Place visible social media links in both your networking event invitation email and your conference website. If you’re using a branded hashtag, communicate it clearly across all channels so that attendees know to use it and follow it to stay in the loop. Lastly, ask your event speakers to share content about your event on their own social media channels. This will allow participants to learn about your speakers and engage them in real conversations about your event topics. After all, speakers and their expertise is one of the key values of any event, virtual or not – so make the most of it!

The more you can do to engage with participants before the event, the more likely it is that you will see engagement during the event, so spare no effort.

3. Leverage the Power of Live Video Keynotes

One of the biggest advantages face-to-face events offer is the chance to ask questions directly to the speaker right after their session is over. Not only does this boost engagement by allowing your participants to further their knowledge, it also allows for a quick way for attendees to introduce themselves to the speaker in order to approach them later for a more in-depth discussion.

By using live video in your virtual event, you can create a similar experience. While live video may not be possible for all speaking arrangements, try to ensure that the most important keynotes choose this format to boost engagement. This will help to remind your attendees about the real people participating in your event, as well as create a more natural conversation by boosting intimacy and warmth. In those cases where live video isn’t possible for the entire session, encourage your speakers to do a quick live introduction before the recorded video starts. That way, attendees get to hear from them in a more relaxed manner before diving into the session.

4. Encourage Conversations Via Chat

When it comes to online events, having your chat features enabled in your virtual event platform is a must if you want to boost real conversations.

Encourage attendees to use the chat to ask questions and talk among themselves, share relevant thoughts in regards to the on-going session, and simply foster connections with other event attendees. If conversation is going too slow, you can participate by proposing a few prompts or questions to boost audience participation; and if instead there’s many questions being asked, you can jump in and answer some of the questions yourself. It’s important you let the speaker know about the chat feature, so that they can also pay attention to the ongoing conversation and answer as much as possible during their time on camera.

In addition, ensure a few minutes at the end of each session are used for a quick Q&A to wrap up the keynote. Time set aside for Q&As allows for your attendees to join in on a deeper discussion about the topic at hand. Take note of any topics that sparked a lot of questions and interes during the session, and make sure you provide ample chances for participants to discuss them among themselves through breakout sessions!

5. Leverage the Impact of a B2B Matchmaking Platform

Making room between your sessions to facilitate networking is an easy way of ensuring your participants will have a chance of chatting among themselves. However, in order to truly deliver a game changing experience for your attendees, leverage the power of a B2B matchmaking platform to set one-on-one meetings.

Encourage your attendees to talk a bit about themselves and what they’re looking for before the event has started, and allow for relationships to develop. You can either let the software suggest suitable recommendations according to their preferences or let attendees request meetings with the people they want to connect with.

In order to boost real conversations, make sure your speakers, learning tracks, exhibitions, etc. are not scheduled back to back to avoid attendee fatigue. By giving them a bit of room to breathe, attendees will feel more comfortable in sharing their thoughts and engaging with other participants!

In Conclusion

All of these virtual networking event ideas are set up to try and mimic as much as possible the real experience attendees get when participating in a face-to-face event. While the current times may not allow for large, in-person gatherings, virtual events don’t need to be a boring, one-sided affair. In the end, ensuring participants make meaningful connections during your events will drive interest (and registrations) for your future conferences!

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