In many ways, the only real difference between physical and virtual events is that a virtual event doesn’t provide attendees with the opportunity to network with thought leaders and colleagues in their industry or niche. What if we told you that that isn’t necessarily true? Successful virtual events allow for ample networking possibilities—but only if the event organizer takes steps to facilitate them! By now, we’ve all participated in a video conference call or a painfully dull, one-sided, webinar. These virtual meetings and interactions are not always ideal or enjoyable but have become necessary in light of the current coronavirus pandemic. There is no reason, however, that your event needs to repeat this type of experience. [embed]https://youtu.be/5pMgQ-zmXJ8[/embed] With the proper planning, you can create an event that fosters attendee engagement and allows for ample virtual networking opportunities.Here’s how:
One of the most stimulating things about a live event is the opportunity to ask questions and converse with speakers in real-time. By using live video in your virtual event, you can create a similar experience. Try to use live video for the most important addresses. This will help to keep the exchanges meaningful and remind people that your event and its content is being produced by real people. It creates intimacy and legitimacy. If your keynote speakers or presenters have pre-recorded their talks, introduce them with a live video. Provide your guests and attendees with a little bit of background information on the presenter and the topic, give them some questions to think during the video. These prompts will help to create conversation and dialogue after the conclusion of the session.
Make sure the chat features are enabled in your virtual event platform. It may sound simple but without live chat, how do you expect fellow attendees to engage with each other and your speakers? Let attendees know before your virtual event begins that they are welcome to ask questions during live sessions. If chat is slow, jump in as a moderator with some prompts. Respond to questions yourself if you are able. Ensure the presenter knows that there will be audience participation and that they, too, should keep their eye on the chat to respond whenever possible. If you are not planning to host separate live Q&A sessions, make room on the agenda for a question period at the end of each session. This gives audience members a chance to participate and engage in conversation that can be continued privately.
When people register for your event, the confirmation email you send should include links to your branded event website and your social media channels. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can help you tell your story and facilitate conversation and networking before your online event even begins! Post prompting questions, share participant bios, engage in topical analysis, spark attendee interest, and make them think. The more you can do to engage before the event, the more likely it is that you will see engagement during the event. Again, face-to-face conferences and networking events are powerful because they put attendees in front of the people they want/need to know. While they may now be virtual attendees, they are looking for the same experience! Give them what they are looking for by engaging them online and showing them that they can expect more of the same when attending your digital event!
Use your website and social media to promote your speakers and vendors. Your attendees want to hear from and engage with industry leaders so show them exactly who you have lined up! Share short bios but also include links to Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin (with permission, of course!) so attendees can do further research. Sharing these profiles also gives attendees a place to go should they have questions or want further discussion after the event is complete. Ask your speakers and vendors to share your event on their own pages and profiles. Encourage them to pose questions that will prompt conversation. They can then use the answers during their live video to present perspective and validate audience participation. If your virtual audience sees online questions being answered and real-time interactions, they will be more likely to interact as well.
One of the easiest things you can do to facilitate networking at virtual events is to make room for it in your programming. You may not be holding a traditional networking event but you can create spaces for attendees to interact with one another in a more natural way. Enable virtual meeting spaces, virtual cocktail hours, and breakout sessions. Taking this step can allow event attendees to create more meaningful connections. The virtual experience will be enhanced if you make it easy for attendees to chat and continue conversations that may have been started while in a session or demonstration. Because you are not in an exhibit hall or conference venue, you will need to create the common spaces in which most networking takes place. A virtual lobby or lounge gives people a place to “go” between sessions. Do you best to avoid scheduling keynote speakers, exhibitions, and tutorials back to back. With room to breathe, all participants can openly share their thoughts and comments with one another in a way that is similar to how they would behave at physical events.
In order to properly facilitate networking, you need to choose an event platform that has all the right features.Whether you are hosting a virtual conference, a hybrid event, a virtual tradeshow, networking event, or something in between, it is vital to have the right event technology. There are many great platforms available so you are sure to find one that best fits your event needs. But, to help you narrow the field, here are some things to look for in a platform:
For event and conference organizers, facilitating networking at virtual events may seem like a monumental task, but the truth is, it is actually quite easy. Your attendees are looking for an experience. And given that so many of us are working remotely and confined to our homes these days, genuine social experiences and connections are hard to come by! When planning your event, aim to make chat and discussion between guests and presenters as easy as possible. Follow the steps above, choose a platform, and then launch your event! As long as you plan for, and guide, networking opportunities, real personal and professional connections will be made.
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