When it comes to virtual events, many people express concern that they will miss out on vital networking opportunities. Certainly, without easy and automatic face-to-face interactions, it is understandable that people would feel this way.
But, careful event planners know that networking at virtual events is simply a matter of creating space for those opportunities.
Here are some of our top suggestions for creating networking opportunities at virtual events:
Use Live Chat
No matter what type of virtual event you are planning, live chat is a worthwhile and valuable feature. Chat is a very basic and accessible way for attendees to engage, interact, and communicate with one another as well as any speakers or vendors.
In your pre-event communications, make attendees aware of the feature and encourage them to ask questions during live speeches and presentations.
Make sure the presenter or speaker knows that there might be questions from the audience so the can periodically check the chat. Assign a moderator to the session so that if people are not speaking up or engaging, they can get things started with a prompt or two.
Also, make room in your agenda to include a Q&A at the end of each session. It is likely that the questions and responses will prompt conversations between participants that can continue offline or in another session.
Program Networking Sessions
When creating your event agenda, be sure to schedule a time for social interactions. This is particularly important if you are hosting a virtual conference, education session, or industry event. People typically attend these affairs with the expectation of meeting other professionals and thought leaders in their particular field. If you can meet that expectation in an online environment, you will go a long to creating a valuable attendee experience.
When putting together your schedule, do not put keynote speakers and important exhibitions or sessions back to back. Give participants time to mull things over. This gives each virtual attendee and opportunity to share thoughtful and meaningful discourse around what they’ve just learned or experienced without having to think about clicking their way to their next session.
When creating a virtual event, it is tempting to cram as much content and programming as you can into a short period of time. But, a live conference or physical event has natural lulls that people often use to interact with a fellow attendee, help them do the same in the virtual format.
Set up virtual meeting rooms, for example, so the audience can continue discussions after a session is done. Breakout sessions are another possibility for networking so schedule a few of them throughout the day. Virtual cocktail hours and virtual lobbies give participants a place to meet up, relax, and share.
Leverage Social Media
Your virtual audience is likely already using social media platforms to network, so why not make it easy for them to connect online with others through your event?
After registration, an attendee will receive a confirmation email. That email should include links to your event’s branded webpage but also to your event’s social media profiles. Links to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, can help you increase brand awareness and facilitate networking before and during your virtual event.
Leveraging your use of social media is simple, but it requires constant attention: ask questions on social media, share information about the keynote speaker, share relevant topical and industry news that can make attendees think, and start conversations with one another.
If you are active in these spaces it is likely that your attendees will check in more frequently and you will see a boost in attendee engagement. An active social media presence will set the tone for the event overall.
Enable Live Video Streams
While attendees will not be live in the exhibit hall or conference space, it is important that you make them feel like they are. Live video allows attendees to engage with speakers and presenters in real-time.
At an in-person event, the audience is able to ask questions and your virtual event needs to provide the same opportunities. A live stream adds an air of humanity and realness to the presentation, reminding the audience that they are not just passively absorbing the information, but that they are part of genuine exchange.
If, for whatever reason, a speaker is unable to use a live video and instead uses a pre-recorded one, try to introduce the session with a live video. Give some background information and introduce the topic. Give the audience some questions or concepts to think about while they were watching the video. It may seem like a small detail, prompting the audience can help create networking opportunities because it encourages conversation and active dialogue.
Use the Right Virtual Event Platform
To properly create networking opportunities at your online event, you will need to use the right event platform.
There are dozens of platforms out there that can host your event and in order to find the one that is right for you, you will need to weigh many of the available features.
At a minimum, your virtual events platform should:
- Include live video chat: Live chat and video options will engage the audience in real-time and create natural networking opportunities. Try to find a platform like Accelevents that enables high video production values.
- Have integrated marketing options: At the bare minimum, you will want a platform that integrates with social media and email marketing tools. These event marketing capabilities will help you spread the word but also open up additional avenues for connection and conversation.
- Offer networking tools: Real-time chat, breakout sessions, virtual meeting rooms, and virtual social events like cocktail hours will go a long way to fostering networking opportunities. To elevate the experience, look for a platform that uses artificial intelligence to “match” attendees to one another based on their actual interactions in the space, creating more meaningful and memorable experiences.
The differences between a live event and a virtual one may seem monumental but they do not have to be. Whether you are hosting a virtual trade show, online conference, a webinar series, a virtual networking event, or something else entirely, as an event organizer, you have the ability to provide your attendees with a truly memorable experience.
We want to connect with one another and with so much uncertainty and chaos, we need these connections now more than ever. Choose a virtual events platform, plan (and nurture!) networking opportunities, and your attendees will undoubtedly develop lasting professional and personal relationships that will help them develop and grow in their chosen industry or career path.