Virtual events offer many advantages to an event planner. They provide access to a larger audience, can enable content that is more diverse, can create better sponsorship opportunities, protect attendees from coronavirus risks, and provide a much greater return on investment. But it’s not just organizers and planners who are benefiting from the digital switchover. Virtual attendees can see the benefits too!
Yes, people attend conferences and trade shows in order to learn and develop their skills, but they also attend networks with other professionals in the industry. Virtual events means these face-to-face interactions will not be possible, but that does not mean you cannot facilitate and encourage networking all the same.
Steps to Encourage Participants to Network at Virtual Events
Because you are not present in person to appreciate the mood in the room and people no longer have body language cues to work with, you will need to help people get into the networking spirit.
Here are some steps you can take to encourage meaningful connections and interactions:
Some people in your target audience will not immediately see the networking opportunities contained in your virtual event. To prevent these people from completely taking a pass, include networking opportunities in your marketing efforts.
Promote the event by offering specific networking sessions, Q&A, breakout sessions, virtual cocktails, private social media groups, gamification and whatever else you have planned to bring people together.
This information can be shared on your social networks and email marketing campaigns but can be fully detailed on your event site. Providing this information will show potential attendees that you have considered the value of networking at a physical event and have taken the necessary steps to provide similar opportunities in a virtual environment.
Show them How
Telling people that you provide networking opportunities may not be enough to actually generate audience engagement. Show them how to take advantage of these networking opportunities.
Write a networking guide that you can email to each registrant before the event. Detail when and where they can access each networking session, but also show them how to use the virtual event platform.
Show them how to develop their avatar, complete their profile, or use the text and video chat features. Explain to them how they can easily share their contact details with other event attendees. Does your platform allow virtual business cards? Tell participants how to share and receive these business cards.
At a live event, people often gather in the common areas between sessions. At a virtual event, people will not be able to say things like “meet outside the showroom”. Show participants how they can interact directly with other participants and send them messages. If someone wants to organize a breakout session or an impromptu virtual meeting, show them where and how to find a meeting room. Send this information to those registered before the event so that they have time to digest and prepare. If you have the resources to create a video guide, along with written instructions, it can have a powerful impact and lead to greater participant satisfaction and an improved overall experience.
Hold Pre-Event Sessions
As with creating a guide, consider inviting each virtual attendee to a pre-event meeting or networking session. This virtual event can help attendees feel more comfortable with the technology they will be using and serve as a bit of an icebreaker, leading to a more relaxed social environment for the start of the event.
Another option is to host a live session on social media. Depending on your event and its audience, Facebook and Instagram are good places to start. Start a live feed with a video that talks about your event’s opportunities, ask specific questions to the audience and encourage them to respond in the comments. From there, you can read some of the questions and respond to concerns in real time. Viewers can start interacting with each other in this format, but at the very least, it gives you the opportunity to put the mind at ease and start to put forth the networking abilities in the world.
The more excitement you can generate around the opportunity to network at your event, the more people will seize the opportunities when they show up. Remember that virtual and online events and virtual networking are a relatively new landscape for most people. While this is really pretty straightforward and most people have been doing it in one form or another on social media for decades, the simplicity does not immediately translate.