Many virtual events have replicated the in-person experience in terms of getting access to experts in the field, insightful panels, and educational opportunities. However, only a few have succeeded in reproducing what is at the heart of industry events: networking.
Indeed, meeting peers and expanding business networks is one of the most important reasons people attend industry events and conferences.
Whether it is to get leads that may convert into customers afterward, to boost career opportunities, or just to make professional connections that could turn out to be useful in the future, networking is and will remain a key aspect of events.
Yet, most organizations have struggled in promoting networking in their virtual events, and have settled for a one-directional type of events such as webinars, where the opportunity for interaction is limited.
Here are some best practice ideas to ensure your next virtual event is on point when it comes to facilitating networking.
1. Enable and encourage chat
As basic as it may sound, enabling a chat feature within your virtual event is a must. If you don’t, attendees will hardly have any opportunities to participate in discussions and reach out to speakers.
Added to that, make sure speakers announce the public chat feature, and a moderator incites participation by introducing themes or questions for discussion.
To boost your event networking even further, find a platform that allows private chat, whereby attendees can instantly message each other individually whilst enjoying the event.
Usually, attendees may be reluctant to give out contact details on a public chat for all to see. Then, a private one-to-one conversation feature can represent a fitting solution to support networking while keeping attendees inside the virtual event environment.
2. Create virtual networking spaces and breakout rooms
Most probably, your event will have different sessions where speakers tackle hot topics within your industry. Apart from these sessions, setting up breakout rooms can enhance long-term connections between attendees.
These can be virtual meeting spaces where attendees can introduce themselves on a personal and professional level, discuss their thoughts on the event or talk about their business challenges.
A distinct benefit from virtual events is that people can easily join from around the world and provide different cultural perspectives, thus enriching the overall event experience.
If possible, include a moderator in the networking sessions as well. This person could greet people as they join, provide guidance for people who may be unsure about how to introduce themselves, and ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going.
Alternatively, if your event is taking place throughout a day or several days, you can set up breakout rooms featuring fun activities. For instance, happy hours or workshops can keep your attendees engaged while providing a more informal environment where people can connect naturally.
3. Make attendees lists public and enable rich profile information
Using a dedicated virtual event platform or event mobile app, you can allow attendees to input their organization, location, photo, short bios, interests, work email, and social media profiles as they please. Attendees can then make this available for others if they wish to, or keep it private if they prefer not to.
That way, participants can browse the attendees list beforehand, decide on which people they want to meet (e.g like-minded people with similar professional interests, people with specific skills or career paths), connect with them on LinkedIn and stay in touch after the event.
4. Engage attendees on social media
Social media can not only prove an amazing tool in reaching your event target audience, but also a way to kickstart a public conversation and encourage sharing personal experiences on business challenges.
Sharing speakers’ bios and prompting participants to do the same within a dedicated hashtag or asking for personal opinions on a specific topic can help in boosting engagement and networking prior to the event and in getting valuable feedback afterward.
5. Gamify networking
Embedding gamification in your event, with missions or challenges for attendees to complete, and prizes at hand for the most active can also be an effective way of incentivizing networking.
For instance, you could design dynamic missions whereby each participant gets points if they complete profile information, participate in breakout rooms, or post discussion topics in networking sessions. As they complete each goal or mission, participants could follow their position in an interactive leaderboard ranking, both boosting the event engagement and encouraging networking.
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