05 Oct Hit the Jackpot with Virtual Networking Events
Note: JDC Events is hosting a new virtual social hour, JDC After Hours, starting with Halloween Fun for Everyone on October 22. This family-friendly event will feature crafts, cocktails and cookie decorating, plus a costume contest and more. Gather your kids and join us from 5:30 – 6:30 EDT for some spooky fun, and leave with fresh new ideas for your next virtual event. Register here.
Someone once said: “Networking is the holy grail of online events. Whoever solves the challenge of getting people connecting, really connecting, has hit the jackpot.”
So how do you solve that challenge? Here are a few ideas:
Tips for Virtual Networking Events
Use live video
Live video allows for a more “real” interactive experience. Participants are able to have more meaningful engagement as they communicate face to face, asking questions (and getting answers) in real-time. Live video makes for a more stimulating, more authentic experience; more like in-person networking.
Live video can also be interspersed with pre-recorded video to give participants some needed information or a brief break; introduce the pre-recorded with live video. If the pre-recorded portion is a keynote speaker, include background on the presenter and topic to give participants material to consider for a live networking session after the presentation. Also ensure that your presenter knows there will be audience participation and help them understand how to work with chat as part of their presentation.
Small room gatherings
When your online event involves live video, arrange a series of small room gatherings through live video chat. These smaller gatherings may be designed around micro topics for discussion, or some may be open networking sessions. Be sure to label these areas so that people know they are entering a live video chat.
The value of a moderator cannot be overstated. Like a host or event organizer, moderators know how to build connections during a virtual event by keeping the conversation moving. In video sessions, the conversation should be allowed to flow. But if it begins to lag, a moderator is invaluable for stepping in with some ready conversation starters. Think of it as table hopping in a banquet hall. If the discussion becomes awkward, a moderator can help quickly recover and get the event back on track. And if technology fails, as it’s sometimes known to do, a moderator can help the event quickly recover or rally the tech team to get things moving again.
With online events, a best practice is to have a moderator in each room, each session. Be sure your moderators are skilled in using the technology, are organized and able to multitask, and ideally know a little about the topic of discussion. You also want moderators who are good listeners so that they can identify cues in tone to step in and help reduce potential conflicts. The ideal moderator will know how to manage the conversation to keep it from being dominated by a chatty guest or from going down a rabbit hole of controversial topics like politics or current events. They should know the event schedule in order to keep the conversation within time limits as much as possible. And they should have a personality and presentation that is professional but not too serious, friendly but not too bubbly.
Keep it engaging
Just like live events, the key to online networking is to keep it engaging. In addition to need-to-know topics, think of your participants’ special passions and invite them to sessions targeted specifically at not only their needs, but also their wants.
Scavenger hunts, for example, are fun ways to help your participants navigate an online exhibit hall. These are the same concept as getting a passport stamped inside a physical exhibit hall before the era of apps. To keep the action moving, conduct push notifications and popups to remind participants to visit booths. To encourage FOMO (fear of missing out) among other attendees, post a leaderboard or note those who’ve entered to win and have levels of winners, not just one big jackpot winner. Be sure to grab the analytics of participants’ visits on the back end to have data for your booth sponsors post-event. While some networking events may allow for brief sponsor breaks or strategically placed logos with links, provide your sponsors with value by including them in event promotion and encouraging speakers and vendors to share the event (including sponsors) on their sites.
Virtual photo booths are fun, too; these are possible with bolt-on apps. Use hashtags to promote social posts and be sure to have an aggregate social page in your conference platform navigation bar. Use those hashtags to encourage silly photos online for a two-fold return—something fun that also creates social presence.
In addition to ideas for helping participants “get,” look for ways that they can give. Whether it’s a session that invites them to share a little-known or interesting fact about themselves or a unique way to contribute to a charity of their choice, people like to feel that they have special value and are doing great things.
Create the right environment
Like live events, successful online networking events can come down to creating the right environment. Make participants feel comfortable when they enter the “room” and set up their expectations early on – just as you would with an in-person event. For smaller networking events, begin with a round of initial introductions, followed by a short period of self-introductions. With events of all sizes, let people know ground rules for participation, including when and if they will be muted, time constraints, chat etiquette (if necessary), and login/logout considerations to avoid awkward entries and exits.
Just like in-person events, virtual face-to-face networking opportunities are powerful ways to bring together participants with other people they want and need to know. The goal is to create an experience that will give them what they’ve come for – a way to engage online in networking opportunities that deliver the same value and exhilaration as in-person events. Do that, and you will hit the jackpot!
Kara Dao is the Senior Director, Client Engagement and Operations at JDC Events. She has a degree from George Mason University and over 2 decades of leadership and executive experience in the events industry. Kara is certified by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, has her Certification in Exhibition Management (CEM) and has served as a Mentor for the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE).