We all know that networking is an important part of an event. Whether you’re organising a virtual or hybrid event, it’s crucial that you provide a way for your delegates (and sponsors) to make new connections, reconnect with industry peers and enjoy some plain old social interaction after a long day of learning and listening.
We all know how to get attendees networking at an in-person event, and indeed at a virtual event, but how do we do both at the same time? In this piece we'll explore how to facilitate hybrid event networking so your delegates can squeeze every last bit of value out of the experience.
Tips for catering to your virtual attendees
If anyone's going to have a bad experience here, it will be your remote delegates. You'll need to consider their experience every step of the way, even more so than your in-person delegates.
- Ensure the virtual event platform you choose has smart networking capabilities such as AI match-making, hosted networking, gamification and features that make it as easy as possible for delegates to interact, such as displaying virtual business cards. It's also a good idea to ensure your platform has great breakout functionality; Arena has video and audio breakouts, allowing attendees the choice of how they prefer to interact with others.
- Serendipity found at in-person events won’t be present here, so make sure you actually schedule networking sessions into the agenda and give your virtual delegates plenty of direction on how to take advantage of the networking features you have available.
- Read our article on facilitating networking at a virtual event for more ideas, as well as find the best virtual networking tools on the market.
Tips for catering to your in-person attendees
Networking in-person will be a little different at hybrid events going forward than in the past.
- With safety restrictions likely to still be in place, make sure you provide attendees with all the necessary safety information prior to the event, so that they know how the event will run and what to expect when interacting with each other, eg rules around social distancing, masks, hand washing etc.
- Read the Safer Events White Paper and information around becoming an accredited Safer Events Organiser, as having this knowledge under your belt will give your delegates that all-important peace of mind that you're taking every possible step to keep them safe.
- Educate your attendees on how they can network with virtual attendees. If someone doesn't know how to do something, likelihood is they just won't bother. Encourage them to mingle with online participants and provide them with all the information and tools they need. Make it as easy as possible!
Tips on creating a valuable experience for both attendee types
- Create a central online meeting point. Ensure the virtual event platform has video chat capabilities so that virtual attendees can easily video chat with an in-person attendee. To provide the option to do this, ensure your registration/check in system is integrated to your virtual platform so that both types of attendees can see and connect with anyone they're not with in-person.
- Make it as inclusive as possible. Ensure your event platform or networking software offers supporting features such as subtitles, sign language and also caters to considerations like time zones.
- Create a dedicated event app for networking purposes, so that in-person attendees can use their phones rather than having to sit somewhere, log on to their laptops and wait for meeting requests.
- Ask everyone to keep their cameras on. This will help attendees create a more personal connection and enhance communication via body language etc. It will also give virtual attendees a nice little view of what the event looks like at the venue. If some delegates don't feel confident with this, you can offer them an audio breakout with Arena.
- Use gamification to ignite conversation and get people chatting.
- Host activities or performances. This will break the ice and involve everyone. You could either do this completely virtually (where even the physical attendees dial in online), or host it at the venue. Just make sure, as always, your venue's internet connection is top notch. Browse our virtual entertainment options.
- Separate hybrid and physical meeting spaces so that there is a clear, quiet space for virtual attendees to chat with physical attendees without the background noise.
- Host roundtables in meeting areas where virtual attendees can dial into and discuss topics with physical attendees.
- Think about sponsor setup. We'd recommend asking your sponsors to put two company representatives on their booths at the venue. This way, one can always monitor and accept meeting requests from virtual attendees and the attention won't solely be on the physical attendee in front of them.
- Utilise social media to create a community around the event and get people engaging and interacting organically through this, as well as encouraging attendees to communicate with each other through the event platform's live feed or through your event app, if you have one.
- Try and find a balance. Although you want all of your attendees to feel included, having everyone on their laptops or phones to network kind of eliminates the point of a hybrid event. The social interaction for the in-person attendees is still important, so try to still provide this at times too, perhaps by having slightly longer coffee breaks for this very purpose (and so your virtual attendees can have a break from their screens!).
- Get some extra help. Our experts over at Hire Space 360 can transform your event planning from dull to dazzling! With unlimited access to event tech, registration tech, on-demand eventprof support, venue and supplier sourcing, and so much more, Hire Space 360 is everything the modern event planner needs.
- Above all, remember that if virtual attendees are feeling neglected and left out, they'll probably just leave. Remember that this is a hybrid event with two types of attendees, not an in-person event with a virtual component on the side. Keep the experience of your virtual attendees in mind at all times and this will help you merge your attendees together to hopefully foster some meaningful connections.
Hopefully, this piece will help you when deciding how to go about facilitating networking at your hybrid event.
If you're ready to start organising, make an enquiry below with our experts and we'll be happy to get the ball rolling on your hybrid event. For more guidance and advice on how to plan unforgettable hybrid events, check out our ultimate guide.
Izzie brings a deep understanding of the events world to Hire Space, and keeps busy by writing lots of Hire Space and EventLAB content and managing the Hire Space social media presence.