Whilst networking at a virtual event doesn't come as naturally as it does in person, it can bring new opportunities for interacting in a different way. Your attendees can still make lasting valuable connections, you just need to leverage that opportunity to create a meaningful and engaging experience. Read on for our top tips.
Choose the right tech
Depending on your chosen event platform, there are several levels of networking functionalities. One of our favourites is AI-powered networking, which is essentially where attendees are matched based on certain criteria. This could be engagement levels throughout the event, company type, business objectives, interests or a whole host of different criteria and information you could ask attendees at registration.
Other platforms provide attendees with a virtual business card so they can easily see for themselves who they might want to interact with. Some even allow attendees to create their own avatar!
It's all about looking at the options and deciding which networking tool would work best for you.
How to facilitate AI-powered networking
Ask attendees key information at registration and ensure your chosen event platform has the capabilities to integrate this to match attendees accurately.
You could also set up a 'speed-dating' style system, where you set up a virtual meeting room and allocate participants to virtual tables based on their interests. Keep attendees at each table for 5 or so minutes and then move them to the next relevant table. This ensures attendees get to mix with multiple peers and enables them to make as many meaningful relationships as possible.
Why we love it
There's nothing worse than being stuck with someone you have no interest in talking to, especially if you're on a limited time frame and want your time to be well spent. Matched networking means you can get directly in front of the people you need to, resulting in more meaningful relationships and high productivity.
Hire Space Top Tip: Arena, the market's brand new virtual and hybrid event platform, is the go-to platform when it comes to networking. Offering both video and audio breakout options, your delegates can choose how they interact, eliminating any stress or anxiety caused by interacting with strangers over camera. Allowing your delegates the option to digest your event how they choose will earn you serious brownie points.
Break the ice with teambuilding activities
Team building activities are a great way to get everyone involved and break down the barriers that come with meeting new people, especially at a virtual event. It's so easy for attendees to hide behind their screens and not talk to a single soul, but that's not going to be helpful for them or you. By organising an activity that brings everyone into the conversation, you'll be amazed at how quickly people become more confident and join in.
How to facilitate teambuilding activities
Many platforms allow external integration, so if you find a platform that offers a great activity, ask if this can be integrated through the event platform. A lot of event platforms also offer in-built teambuilding activities so it's certainly worth checking what you can and can't do first before searching for other providers.
The possibilities really are endless when it comes to virtual teambuilding. You could separate attendees into breakout rooms and run a hosted virtual murder mystery, pub quiz, or even a cookery class! Check out our piece on virtual teambuilding ideas or the Virtual Experiences Marketplace for more inspiration.
Why we love it
Teambuilding is a fantastic way to allow your delegates to have a bit of a break, have some fun, chat with each other and enjoy a unique experience, all whilst still being at your event. It's a win-win!
Gamify the experience
Keeping attendees engaged is the golden goal for virtual event planners. The key is adding a unique element to your event that piques the attention of your attendees and gets them involved. Gamification at virtual events is about creating a fun experience for your attendees whilst creating strong brand awareness and positioning.
How to facilitate gamification
The word 'gamification' is often a scary one for planners, as it conjures an image of extortionate software that can be hard to implement well. Gamification can be as simple as offering attendees a puzzle to solve, such as an escape room, or a simple game with different levels which are unlocked by completing certain tasks such as interacting with a certain number of delegates/exhibitors.
If you did want to step it up a level, AR (augmented reality) can be a really impressive engagement tool. You could take your delegates on a virtual scavenger hunt around different parts of the world, or even send them virtual reality headsets (or Google Cardboard for a more cost-effective option) to completely immerse them in an alternate universe in which they compete to win points and prizes.
For more inspiration around gamification, Matt Margetson, Founder and Innovation Director of creative agency Smyle, recently gave a talk at EventLAB Online all about the gamification of virtual events.
Why we love it
In this saturated market, it's all about making your virtual event stand out and offering delegates a unique and interesting experience that they'll remember. Gamification does exactly that - it livens up an event, adds a unique spin and will certainly make for an unforgettable experience for your attendees.
It can also help you achieve your objectives. Think about your event concept and what you’re trying to achieve, and then make sure there’s a strong connection with the gamification to your brand and that it's valuable for your attendees.
Schedule networking sessions into the agenda
This adds structure and ensures attendees make time to network rather than just tuning in for the sessions. Turning up for a virtual networking session can be daunting, so scheduling set session times means attendees will feel more relaxed about attending and reassured that they won't be the only ones to turn up!
How to facilitate scheduled networking sessions
Construct your agenda with specific slots for networking time. You could encourage people to attend the networking sessions with incentives such as virtual swag bags containing access to discounts or offers from sponsoring companies. Having sponsored networking sessions is also a good way to monetise your virtual event.
When scheduling your sessions, it's a good idea to drip-feed them throughout the day, rather than just at the end of the event. This is a good way to maintain the buzz around the event and gives attendees an opportunity to discuss and process the sessions they've already attended. It will also build excitement for remaining sessions and foster a sense of community.
Why we love it
Who doesn't love to have a whole session just to chat?!
Hire Space's Ultimate Virtual Event Networking Tips:
1) Ask attendees to keep their cameras on if possible. This will help the interaction flow better and establish trust by putting a face to the name. They should also be somewhere with good lighting and have strong wifi to avoid blurriness and lag! Not all attendees will feel comfortable with this, so try and give them the option - a good workaround is to use a platform with both video and audio breakout options, such as Arena.
2) Enable live chat throughout the event. This will mean that attendees will be interacting all day and building rapport by weighing in on certain sessions and having conversations that then may be continued during the dedicated networking sessions.
3) Keep the networking session open post-event. Attendees who are having a great conversation may want to stay on after, like they might at a physical event. Allow them the capability to continue chatting for as long as they want!
4) Make sure your chosen platform allows attendees to input their social media handles in their profiles. This way, they can easily send links to attendees they've been chatting to and connect with them on their channels. It's also important for you to remain active on your brand's social channels too - get as many people as possible involved in the conversation and connections will be made left, right and centre!
5) If attendees are particularly shy, offer some incentives! Encourage them to get involved by offering prizes, freebies or discounts (perhaps donated by sponsors). You could create a scoring system where attendees score points by connecting with their peers or getting involved in games. Everyone loves a freebie, so you'll certainly see your networking attendance and engagement shoot up!
6) Focus the session. Don’t leave networking too open for the whole duration. Create tightly themed networking sessions on specific topics, that way your delegates will all have common ground to share and a great reason to reach out to each other in the first place. Once your delegates are chatting away, then you can leave them to their own devices.
7) Consider running hosted content-led networking sessions. This will give groups the opportunity to chat and discuss a particular topic from sessions that they just attended.
If you're ready to start creating unforgettable networking opportunities for your attendees, book a free consultation today with our Virtual Event Experts to see how we can help.
For more guidance and advice on how to plan unforgettable virtual events, check out our Complete Guide To Virtual Events.