Networking is one of the main points of attraction for the majority of events, and it is often an event element that creates lasting memories for attendees.
Over time, attendees may forget specific details of the sessions they attended at an event, but they will continue to cherish the connections they made and the relationships they began building.
This is why event organizers should make networking a top priority when planning virtual events.
Although traditional networking happens at in-person events where people can see one another face-to-face and meet over for lunch, virtual events, when well-planned, also provide a platform for real human interactions that can result in lasting professional relationships.
Besides, virtual event networking also has the potential to bring more people together without the barriers of distance and travel.
As you incorporate virtual networking opportunities into your event plans, be sure to promote the opportunity as well. Because it’s such a great benefit to attendees, they’ll be more driven to sign up if they know they’ll have access to additional networking opportunities.
Quick Takeaways: Here are some tips to consider to prepare attendees for an engaging networking experience at your virtual event.
- Create Users Profiles and Directory
- Create Breakout Sessions
- Create Discussion Forums
- Create Fun Activities and Gameplay
- Facilitate Networking through Sponsorship and Exhibition
Let’s dive in to learn more!
Create User Profiles and Directory
Effective networking starts with the knowledge of who’s who on the virtual event platform. Each attendee should have a unique profile on the platform that displays personal information such as their name, headshot, job title, professional industry, and relevant interests.
Use the information collected during the registration process to create these profiles, and allow attendees to make updates and build out their personal profiles when the platform goes live.
Also, create a directory containing all attendee profiles on the platform with links to each profile page. This will allow attendees to search for connections and view individuals’ information as they encounter one another during event activities.
Encourage networking by enabling interactive tools on the directory such as messaging, meeting scheduling, 1:1 video calls, and group chats.
Also, allow attendees to link to their social media pages from their profile, inviting future relationships past the event itself. You should make sure these profiles are mobile-responsive or available through an event app if you take this route.
Because the majority of social media interactions take place on mobile devices, this will ensure you’re doing everything you can to enable future interactions between supporters beyond the initial networking activities at your event.
Create Breakout Sessions
Breakout rooms are video meeting rooms created for attendees to gather in small groups to collaborate, brainstorm, network, or discuss a topic of common interest. Breakout rooms bring the event experience closer to each attendee and encourage them to actively participate.
Create breakout groups based on pre-selected topics of interest related to your event target audience. You can automatically assign participants to breakout rooms or let them select rooms to join based on common interests.
Use breakout rooms to facilitate connections between participants, asking pointed questions and driving the conversation to ensure no one is hiding behind the crowd.
Limit the number of participants in each of these breakout groups to a few people so that everyone feels they can contribute to ongoing discussions. When the breakout session starts, let everyone in the room self-introduce and create small group activities that will encourage everyone to contribute at one point or another.
Create Discussion Forums
Set up public and closed discussion forums based on specific topics, questions, and common interests. When people share their opinions, knowledge, and expertise on particular subjects, they will boost community interactions and networking opportunities. As a result, others will also feel driven to respond and make the most of the engagement opportunity.
To facilitate robust discussions in forums, encourage your attendees to share questions, challenges, and insights. Then, invite other attendees to respond, fostering ongoing conversations between a variety of individuals. Attendees should be allowed to join multiple forums, giving them the chance to share their experience across multiple roles and experiences.
Create Fun Activities and Gameplay
Fun activities such as games are some of the most effective means of getting your audiences’ attention. To leverage this opportunity for networking, create event activities that require teams and collaboration. Based on the directory offered in your virtual event platform, generate game teams and assign specific tasks for them to complete.
Incentivize these activities by offering virtual badges and even event merchandise to encourage further participation. Emphasize that these activities and games should be completed within the allotted time during the event to count for the incentives. They should be simple enough for everyone to be able to participate but also a bit challenging to qualify as a contest.
You can also offer other fun activities such as virtual cocktails, lunch, dinner, or happy hour. If you go this route, specify menus or offer to deliver to participants’ homes for uniformity.
You can send different items to participants and ask those who got similar items to locate their peers on the virtual platform and perform joint activities. Such activities can create more fun and bonding experiences between participants.
Facilitate Networking through Sponsorship and Exhibition
In addition to revenue generation, sponsorships and exhibitions can create an additional hub of networking activities for your virtual event. Such activities enable your event participants to find new businesses, meet professionals in similar industries, and find new exciting solutions.
Bring in suppliers, solution providers, and professionals who offer products and services that your attendees would find useful. You can also schedule some of these professionals and sponsors as event speakers and facilitators. This creates initial interest that motivates attendees to visit available virtual booths set up by sponsors for further discussions.
Use interactive tools such as private video chats to allow attendees to connect one on one with your event sponsors. Allow attendees to also pre-schedule meetings with sponsors before or during the event to avoid waiting times. This will provide those most driven to make these connections with the opportunity to do so.
To help attendees make the most of virtual event networking, ask them to provide their social media handles and that should appear on their profiles on the platform. This will make it easier for attendees to follow up with their new connections on social media, learn more about them, and sustain the newfound professional relationships.
Author: Christina Tomlinson
Christina Tomlinson is the VP of Marketing & Events at Pathable and is passionate about all things event planning and execution.
Before joining the Pathable team, she was the Associate Director of Events at Kennedy Creative Events and the Regional Event Manager at TEAM Enterprises.