How to Create Virtual Networking Opportunities
We all know networking is a core benefit to any live event. But with meetings going virtual, how can you replicate or enhance those in-person planned and chance encounters that lead to new business opportunities?
Virtual Networking Ideas
Here are just some of the ways we’ve seen people making deep connections, expanding their network, and experiencing the power of a live event… all through their screen. Virtual networking events are highly valuable for event planners and attendees. Attendees usually find that the connections they made were the most valuable part of an event and event planners better understand what event attendees are looking for at the next event. Keep scrolling for more information on each!
- Algorithm Matching
- Topic-Based Networking Rooms
- Virtual Receptions
- Live Chat
- Create a Virtual Experience
- Host a Pre-Event "Open House"
At LAI, we’ve worked with our clients on a bunch of different ways to ensure their virtual networking experiences mirror the quality and connection provided at an in-person event. While your attendees won’t be running into each other in the conference hall or at the coffee station, in many cases, we’ve seen that networking virtually offers even more opportunities for connecting, and often in stronger ways.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Attendees get a chance to connect with folks they wouldn’t have otherwise met – A virtual experience is scalable and not limited to capacity and travel restrictions. This allows people from around the world to attend your event that likely wouldn’t have been able to do so in person.
- Data! The access to attendee data that a virtual platform provides allows meeting organizers to connect folks based on common interests, demographics, ticket type, and more. Learn more in the section on Algorithm Matching below.
- Stream of consciousness communications – The virtual event format results in a more real-time, stream of consciousness-form of communication, rather than the structured announcements or scheduled networking breaks at an in-person meeting. This allows for information to be shared regularly, comments to be candid, and people to partake in organic conversations. Learn more in the section on Live Chat below.
- Attendees are out of their comfort zone – We’ve all done it. At in-person events, attendees tend to stay within their own groups and often don’t venture outside of their comfort zone. But this isn't possible at a virtual event. With everyone joining from their home, people are much more willing to mingle and connect with folks they didn’t know beforehand.
We know one of the benefits of a virtual event is the data. The platform you use will likely have the ability to house each attendee’s demographic information – which then gives you the ability to use it! For networking specifically, you can use an algorithm to match up attendees based on the answers they provide in their registration – and have attendees opt-in to be randomly matched.
For example, you can match up attendees based on their ticket status – connecting VIPs with other VIPs, sponsors with their target audience, or mentors with mentees. You can also match based on their interests, making sure those with compatible session tracks, topics, or event goals get the chance to sync up. Or consider geography – where you can connect those that are located near each other, allowing them to more easily reconnect in person someday soon. An online networking event friend connection!
As mentioned above, attendees often have certain objectives or goals when they come to an event. Why not help them connect with like-minded peers? A majority of platforms allow you to set up networking rooms for your attendees to drop in and out of throughout the event. You can assign a certain topic or discussion question to the room to help gather folks that are interested in connecting on similar objectives.
Or even better – give the attendees the opportunity to start their own conversations! With on-demand networking rooms, attendees can spin up rooms themselves to create conversation pods around their desired discussion topics. Other interested parties can join organically and truly connect based on their shared needs.
One of the networking hot-spots of an in-person event is at the receptions. Whether scheduled happy hours, networking breaks between sessions, or evening events – you can still incorporate these happenings into your virtual event schedule. Still nervous about how to host a virtual networking event? Read on.
Need proof that attendees will get together virtually? Just look the boom we’ve seen in virtual happy hours, Zoom family chats, weddings, birthday parties, and more. People are more open and willing than ever to partake in a more casual virtual experience, so they can interact in a social setting with others.
If you’re looking to add a bit more structure or enhance your reception experience, some virtual platforms allow for you to build networking cocktail tables that have seating options available. At these tables, you can assign 4-6 seats at random to allow for attendees to engage in more intimate conversations.
You can even take your award shows to the screens! Learn more about going virtual with your awards show here.
Live chat is another benefit of a virtual experience that isn’t available with an in-person experience. Running continuously throughout the entire event, and visible by all attendees, it enables both the conference organizers and the attendees to communicate in real-time, and provide that stream-of-consciousness experience we talked about that you don’t get at a conference center.
Attendees can watch the conversations happening in the chat and participate in discussions through this medium. But often, they will resonate with a few people that share similar opinions, questions, or content – who then can connect directly with each other. These like-minded attendees can coordinate meeting up in a networking room, at a virtual reception, or through any of the other engaging channels that you have set up!
Some of the most memory-making moments of a traditional live event happen through the experiences that are shared among all attendees. They are the “something different” that connects attendees to your brand and keeps them talking about your event for weeks after it has ended. Even though you can’t all be physically together – who says you can’t you create the same type of moment at your virtual meeting?
At LAI, we work with our roster of talent to deliver their captivating and engaging experiences through the screen. One of the ways to do this is with an engaging virtual exhibit hall. Some other exciting and different ways we’ve worked together include:
- Virtual wine tasting with one of our sommeliers or a cooking lesson by a celebrity chef
- A remote book club – pre-reading a book and partaking in a virtual discussion with the author
- An intimate musical performance from iconic singer/songwriters
- A virtual drawing demonstration by renowned cartoonists
- Virtual magic shows by impressive illusionists
- Comedy acts to lighten up the mood and keep attendees laughing
- Gamification – using a host to lead trivia or other interactive games to score points throughout the event.
This is also a great way to involve your sponsors. If these experiences are sponsored, you can have attendees sign up to participate in the event, in exchange for scheduled appointments for a conversation with the sponsor. See other ways to virtually engage your sponsors here.
We are all adjusting to this new normal, so should have the expectation that our attendees are too. This may be a person’s first time attending a virtual event. Some attendees may not be familiar with a virtual event platform and would benefit from a tour of the technology prior to the live experience.
Host a virtual event “open house” to let people to poke around the platform before it goes live, let them know who else is attending, how the functionality works, and what to expect. During this experience, they can virtually mingle with other participants and go into the live event having already formed relationships with contacts – that they can then sync up with in all the above ways!
Consider creating a pre-event how-to video on how to best navigate the platform to prepare your audience, like the one below!
Understand Your Platform’s Capabilities
It is worth noting that the above virtual networking event ideas and opportunities are dependent on the type of event tech platform you’re using to host your event. We can discuss custom virtual networking event ideas with you.
Our LAI Producers can help you navigate the development of a virtual experience and get the most out of your platform’s functionality. If you’re looking to learn more about the different levels of event platforms, take a look at the different platform packages we offer.
Tips for a Successful Virtual Networking Event
The key to a great networking event is always the people - and it's important to give people this opportunity even when they are meeting virtually. After creating the virtual networking opportunity, there are a few important tips to follow to ensure the event is successful:
- Get the timing down. Figure out the sweet spot for how long you should host your networking event for. If the networking is taking place before the main event, planning less time may be ideal since people don't know each other yet and may not have much common ground to cover. If the networking opportunity is happening after the main event, you can allot more time since people will be more comfortable with each other and will most likely want to talk about the event they just attended together.
- Introduce participants via icebreakers. Having participants share their name, their occupation, their LinkedIn information, and what they are hoping to learn from the event are great tidbits of information to share and learn from others.
- Keep the door open. Once the virtual networking opportunity has happened, now what? The best measure for the success of a networking event is whether or not attendees stay in touch and maintain relationships with the people they met while networking. To make sure this happens, have event attendees make virtual profiles that can be accessed after the event or send out a list of meeting attendees to the entire group with their contact information (with their permission).
Take These Virtual Networking Ideas to the Next Level!
LAI can make your dreams of fostering valuable virtual networking a reality! Reach out to our team today to start talking all things virtual: