Every week you may receive multiple invitations to attend a virtual meeting and/or event. As an event planner, you’re probably wondering how to compete with other events and become the go-to for your target audience. We know from experience that having great speakers, topics, and sessions are important. But, also having the best virtual networking strategy is what can set you apart from others. A good strategy begins with faster internet speeds, better personal cameras, and other cutting-edge technology, and various, purposeful opportunities for attendees to connect and engage with one another. All of these items can help individuals remain connected while also being socially distant.
Networking has always been a crucial way to meet potential clients, connect with mentors, generate new partnerships, and learn new things about your industry. With virtual networking, you can tap into new networks all over the world. Before we get into some of the “must-do’s” for any virtual networking event, let’s first discuss what a virtual networking event is.
What is Virtual Networking During an Event?
A virtual networking event is an online gathering where professionals can connect using a designated virtual platform to meet and interact with new people. At Vario, we think there’s more to it than that. A virtual networking event is an opportunity. It’s fun and lively, and it’s relatively limitless. Virtual networking is just as effective as in-person networking if done right.
The best part about virtual networking sessions is that there isn’t an industry-standard playbook that you have to follow. Granted, it’s not the wild west. There are some things that every virtual networking event should have. From there, you can incorporate your creative ideas to make the event engaging and memorable.
How Does Virtual Networking Work?
Virtual networking starts with preparation and planning. The more effort you put into this component of your event, the better the result will be. It is important to remember that this isn’t a casual zoom call with friends; this is a professional setting for movers and shakers. If you’re listing it as an integral part of your event, it should feel like it’s part of the production and not an afterthought.
To ensure your virtual attendees are engaged throughout the event, plan to incorporate different ways to network, including one-on-one sessions, breakout roundtables, and virtual happy hour. In addition, consider breaking out your attendees into relevant subgroups, such as job title, geographic location, interests, or other insights gathered from your pre-event survey. This way, your attendees are more likely to form a meaningful connection with the counterparts they meet.
Virtual networking can be stressful for some attendees, so it’s important to share the agenda with them before the event to make them feel more comfortable.
Include details such as:
- How many virtual sessions there will be
- How long will each session last
- How they will know the session is coming to an end (i.e. with one minute left, alert your attendees so they can wrap things up)
Additionally, it’s important to establish a few rules or guidelines for your attendees to follow so everyone is on the same page. Consider common courtesies such as keeping your camera on, muting yourself when you aren’t speaking, and not interrupting the person who is speaking. These guidelines should encourage that everyone has a voice, no matter their job status or years of experience.
Let’s briefly breakdown the different networking options:
#1 One-on-one Sessions
One-on-one sessions can sometimes be awkward at first but are a great way to start a relationship with someone that will last after the event ends. Whether the individuals in the one-on-one session were paired because of similarity or randomly selected, you can include prompts that break the ice and get a good conversation flowing. Remind your attendees that it’s important to talk about work or industry-related topics but that this is a time to connect on a deeper level, so they should feel most comfortable talking about the things they want.
#2 Breakout Sessions
Breakout sessions involve your attendees joining smaller group sessions. These smaller sessions allow professionals to collaborate and socialize without having to struggle to be heard or seen. Typically, a breakout session involves a focused presentation or interactive discussion on one particular topic of the overall conference subject. There should be a designated volunteer or moderator to start the conversation, keep it on track, and be mindful of who’s talking too much or not enough. You can ask for volunteers before the event if they would like to volunteer. Overall, breakout sessions are a great way for people to share their experiences and perspectives within an industry or thoughts on certain topics.
#3 Virtual Happy Hour
This session may be the most fun for your attendees! This is an opportunity for them to get to know each other on a more personal level, play interactive games, and share stories. To break the ice, make sure everyone introduces themselves, shares where they are from, and maybe an interesting fact or what beverage they are drinking. Naturally, the conversation should flow and some attendees may carry the weight more than others. However, if a room of introverts shows up, participation may lag so we suggest assigning volunteer moderators to speak up when necessary. Be mindful that not everyone will be in the same time zone, so in some cases, a happy hour might not be the best fit for your event.
Whether you are utilizing one or all of these strategies for your attendees to network, your goal should be to provide them with the best possible user experience. Now that you know how virtual networking works, let’s go through these key elements of planning a virtual event.
What Makes a Good Virtual Platform
One of the most important aspects of your event is the virtual event platform. If your platform has technical difficulties or isn’t user-friendly for your attendees, it can significantly impact their overall experience.
First, you need to identify the needs of your event. Ask yourself and your team:
- How many people will be attending the virtual event?
- How many breakout rooms will be needed? How many people will be in each breakout group?
- Will we use pre-recorded content?
Once you’ve addressed your particular needs, it’s time to choose a platform that’s the best fit. If your virtual networking event has hundreds of attendees, you will need a platform that can keep up. Likewise, if you’re hosting a virtual event with less than one hundred people, you can look into platforms made for smaller-scale events.
Virtual by Vario is a platform that offers several interactive features that enable your team to maintain many of the elements an in-person event would have. To name a few, Virtual by Vario features:
- One-to-one connections
- Breakout rooms with collaboration tools
- Private messaging and public messaging/forums
- Q&A, Polling, and Live Chat during sessions
- Supports up to 10,000 users
- Categorized attendee subgroups with public, request-to-join, and invite-only permissions
- 24/7 US-based tech support
- And much more!
Choosing a platform that will provide the best experience for your attendees is a critical step in hosting a successful virtual networking event. Make sure you are partnering with a platform that listens to your needs and provides support every step of the way leading up to the event, and on the day of your event.
At Vario, we have been well versed in the industry for 20+ years, and know what it takes to host a successful event. If you’re struggling to find the right questions to ask your potential hosting partner, our team is happy to help. Head over to Virtual by Vario for more key information and FAQs.
Choosing A Moderator
Choosing the right moderator is a critical piece in planning your next virtual networking event. Be sure to select a candidate that meets the following criteria:
- A dynamic personality
- A respected or renowned professional in their respective field
- An individual with a passion for the event
- Someone who can keep things fun
- Can double as a keynote speaker
- Has a wealth of professional connections
A good moderator should command a certain interest and respect from your attendees. Finding the right person may take a little research, but a good moderator can elevate your virtual networking event from good to great.
How To Optimize Networking
Whether you’re hosting a virtual or hybrid networking event, fostering the social aspect of the networking opportunity for your attendees is the top priority.
Here are our top three tips to optimize networking at your virtual or hybrid event:
- Involve Chat Functionality/Virtual Hangout Spaces – When it comes to virtual events, engagement is everything. What your virtual event lacks in in-person communication it can easily make up for with virtual engagement opportunities. Virtual hangouts, polls, whiteboards, screen sharing, and other collaboration features are a great way for fellow attendees to choose which groups they want to be a part of, as well as for deciding for how long. Think of it as “e-mingling.” Your attendees should have the ability to pop in and out of little groups as they please the same way they would at an in-person event.
- Link To Social Media – Getting traction on social media platforms before and during your networking event is a great way to boost attendance, increase engagement, and offers an alternative method for attendees to connect and interact. Try sending out a pre-event survey to gauge what the most popular/preferred social media site is amongst your attendees.
- Make it easy for attendees to connect after the event – The goal of your networking at your virtual event is to help your attendees form new relationships. Still, none of that matters if they can’t connect after the event is over! Provide clear instructions before the event ends with ways your attendees can stay connected, whether within the platform used for the event or through other social media channels (i.e. joining a designated Facebook group).
Planning a virtual/hybrid networking event can seem like a daunting task, especially if you are pivoting from in-person to virtual. When planning your event, you don’t have to feel lost. We are here to help! Our knowledge of modern technology, vendors, platforms, and other event planning must-haves make us a great resource for events of all sizes. At Vario, we’re happy to help organize the necessary components and tools you need for your next virtual networking event to go off without a hitch. Contact us today!