Networking has been a major part of conferences and events, a factor that motivates attendees to travel long distances to attend. As events largely shifted from in-person to online spaces due to COVID safety, the aspect that has suffered the most is networking.
With reduced attention span and lack of physical presence, networking at virtual events has been a major challenge for both organizers and attendees. Yet it is important to help attendees create and establish connections in the new formats. As an event or conference organizer, you should aim to help attendees network and connect meaningfully.
This article will help your organization find brilliant ways to provide networking opportunities for attendees at your virtual events. We’ll cover the following specifics:
- Provide a variety of opportunities for attendees to network at your virtual event.
- Amplify your virtual event networking with gamification.
- Provide ways for attendees to connect before and after your event.
- Choose the right platform for optimal virtual event networking.
Let’s dig in to learn more!
Provide a variety of opportunities for attendees to network at your virtual event.
Your virtual event should provide opportunities for attendees to connect at three levels; with speakers, with sponsors, and with other attendees. Implementing the following ideas at your event can help to facilitate those three connections for attendees.
Breakout rooms are great opportunities for networking if they are well planned out. They work for both creating more focused learning groups and networking groups as well. Create breakout groups with discussion topics that can bring people with similar interests together, then assign someone familiar with each topic to moderate the corresponding room.
Allow attendees to pre-select breakout rooms so they can join the rooms of their choice when it’s time. Also, limit the number of participants in each room so everyone in the group is visible. You can enable a waiting list for each room so that new members can join if people that pre-selected didn’t show up. In the breakout rooms, moderators should encourage everyone to participate, including each participant self-introducing, preferably on video.
Group Chat Capabilities
Your virtual event should have group chat capabilities so that attendees, speakers, and sponsors can randomly chat in groups. Unlike breakout rooms, group chats are for ad hoc discussions. You can create several group chats and pre-assign speakers and sponsors for each chat. This is such that when attendees see who is in the chat, they can be motivated to join.
Attendees should have the opportunity to freely move around your event’s virtual lobby to join or leave a group chat when chats are active. This is so that attendees can attend several group chats within the time allotted on the event agenda. If possible, group chats can be ongoing throughout the event’s lifecycle.
Q & A Video Chat Sessions
Apart from the regular Q&A that comes up after each conference presentation, have a dedicated video Q&A session with speakers. This is where both speakers and attendees will be on live cam and attendees can ask their questions based on topics covered during the event. With people speaking on camera, more people will come to the spotlight and this can help to foster more connections.
Get feedback from attendees about their experiences connecting with other people on your event platform. The survey will help you to know how many new connections were made and what features on your platform are most effective at facilitating connections. Attendees will also share their challenges with networking during your event. The information you gather from the feedback surveys will help to create better experiences at future events.
Amplify your virtual event networking with gamification.
There is always excitement when something is at stake to win, and that’s what gamification can do with networking at your virtual event. With gamification software, you can track and display how people are networking at your event and this can make the activities more fun and exciting. Here is how to implement gamification to amplify networking at your virtual event:
Find a gamification solution.
In addition to your virtual event platform, you will also need a gamification solution that can assign points and badges to attendees based on participation in specific networking activities such as joining breakout rooms, asking or answering questions, joining a group chat, or participating in a 1:1 video chat. The scores are displayed on a leaderboard so people can see which attendees are leading and be motivated to network more.
Ask your virtual event platform provider if they have gamification features. If not, you might have to improvise for that separately. However, if using Pathable’s platform, all you need is to request for the gamification feature to be activated on your platform, specify the activities you want to gamify and allocate weight points to activities accordingly.
Facilitate breakout meetings.
As mentioned earlier in the post, you need to facilitate breakout meetings between attendees as well as with sponsors and speakers. Virtual networking breakout rooms should be centered on questions and conversations between people with similar interests, who can interact and exchange important information. When you set up such rooms, you open up opportunities for tremendous networking, and gamification helps amplify the experience.
Award prizes for attendees who participated.
Incentives are what makes gamification worth it. While you can’t reward everyone that participated, you can offer prizes to those who top the leaderboard with their cumulative networking points. That may be the top five, ten, twenty, or fifty depending on the size of your event. You can also offer rewards based on categories of attendees. Prizes can be offered in collaboration with sponsors, which is also another way to give sponsors more exposure.
Provide ways for attendees to connect before and after your event.
There are ways you can plan your virtual event such that networking can begin before the event and be sustained beyond for lasting impressions and discussions. Here are some ideas to consider when implementing this:
Enable chat on your virtual event software and invite attendees to participate beforehand.
One of the ways to get attendees warmed up for networking is to enable live chat on your event platform and open the platform for attendees before the event date. The feature most suitable for this is a “public forum” which enables attendees to post random topics, questions, or introductions.
The conversation can be centered around the topics for the event or related to general information about the industry or association. You can display the name of participants making posts, as well as the organization they belong to, so that people can see some potential points of connection.
Engage attendees on social media.
In online networking, social media is a major factor and you can leverage it to engage attendees and help them network further. Encourage attendees to share their event experience on social media and create hashtags they can mention when making event-related posts. Take it a step further by engaging everyone that shares a post or makes a comment. When attendees see that you, the event organizer, are actively present on social media, you are likely to see more people sharing their experience.
Since social media also provides a means of establishing contacts, attendees can follow, request for connection, or add other attendees as friends, and that can help foster long-term connections.
Share the speaker contact information for questions.
Some attendees will like to follow up with event speakers beyond the event. Therefore, share email addresses, phone numbers, and social media handles of speakers during the event. Alternatively, you can list the contact information of each speaker on their profile pages on the virtual event platform.
Choose the right platform for optimal virtual event networking.
Your event tech platform will be a major driver of all experiences in your virtual event, including networking. Look out for a platform that has all the engagement features you will need for optimal networking. Here are some important features to look out for when choosing a virtual event platform:
A real-time chat feature enables attendees to react, respond, ask questions, comment, and connect. It can also serve as feedback for speakers, to help them read the room and hear from attendees while presenting. Real-time chat provides general networking touchpoints that attendees can build on using other networking tools on the platform.
As previously mentioned, the platform should allow for creating point-based games according to predefined networking activities. There should be a page on the platform where attendees can view how their networking activities are earning them points and positioning them to win prizes. The platform should also allow for the incorporation of other interactive games.
With discussion forums on the platform, attendees have the opportunity to post messages or images for others to read, view, react, or comment on. That’s another opportunity to connect as more people will likely react or post when they see others do the same, creating more connection touchpoints.
Group and one on one video calls
Attendees need to connect on video both in groups and one-on-one. Your platform should offer both features. For individual calls, attendees can simply go to the virtual event directory page to schedule a private video chat with any other attendee, speaker, or sponsor. It would help if all participants list their organization, job position, and interests on their profiles to help foster interest-based networking on the platform.
Without networking, virtual events are no better than webinars or TV shows. While the learning experiences might be great and fun, the connections that attendees make during your event are what will stick longer. Therefore, make networking a top priority when planning your virtual events and choosing a platform.
Lastly, the future of virtual event networking lies with creating hybrid networking experiences. As in-person events fully return, the likelihood of a virtual component always being in the mix is very high. Therefore, facilitating connections between attendees, as well as with speakers and sponsors irrespective of the mode of event attendance, will be of top priority.
Find out how the Pathable event platform can help support the ideas in this article and more: Explore Pathable.