Here at W12, we’ve witnessed events of all shapes and sizes – large-scale scientific conferences, intimate boardroom meetings, dinners, drinks receptions, and, in recent years, a rising number of virtual functions. Trust us, nothing divides a crowd of event profs quite like an online event! You either love them or hate them – but even the staunchest critic has to grudgingly admit they have their perks. From the removal of global barriers to a reduced carbon footprint, easy attendance to post-event data analysis, there are plenty of good reasons to consider going digital.
However, for all these positives, facilitating networking can be a real challenge. Without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, delegates can struggle to foster meaningful industry relationships: networking is, after all, a core feature of in-person occasions. With this in mind, we’ve put our heads together to come up with a guide to encouraging networking at virtual events. Digital doesn’t have to mean disconnected!
Utilise Social Media
It might seem paradoxical, but going virtual can actually lend itself to effective networking. From a planning perspective, social media allows you to curate spaces; creating event groups on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn can help drive engagement. Individuals can see who else is attending – and who shares their professional interests – and make a note of key contacts in advance of the event itself.
Moreover, social media can make networking a little easier for attendees. Walking into a packed room armed only with a handshake and business card is a daunting prospect for many; communicating from the comfort of your own home, on the other hand, can feel less intimidating. Posting polls and questions within these groups is a great way to keep communication channels open. Likewise, assigning a hashtag to an event aids promotion, and allows attendees to find and connect directly with others.
Play the matchmaker
Matching delegates with similar interests, from the same industry, or with complimentary career insights can also facilitate conversation (and help attendees sidestep the small talk!). There are multiple ways to do this: setting up one-on-one chat features, for example, or virtual “tables” – just as you would traditional venue layouts – to ensure certain break out rooms include attendees with shared interests.
Alternatively, there are plenty of software solutions out there specifically designed to encourage network matchmaking, such as Delegate Select. The system assigns virtual meeting spaces based on user data, enabling attendees to “meet” their partner online at an appointed time. By providing delegates with the opportunity to speak to matches in more individualised settings, you’ll be laying the foundations for successful networking and adding value to your event. Win-win!
On the topic of software solutions, virtual event platforms have come a long way in the last few years, and there are some fantastic options available to maximise audience participation. After all, a more engaged “room” is likely to generate more animated interactions between delegates.
These platforms combine a whole host of useful functions and features, offering attendees access to messaging facilities, digital roundtables, itineraries, and downloadable resources. Take Hopin: the platform uses multiple, interactive areas to optimise connections – delegates can move in and out of rooms as they would in-person, attend workshops with other members, and break off into smaller groups to talk one-on-one. It also provides organisers with post-event analytics to see exactly what worked well, and what could be improved for next time.
Gamify your event
Point systems, puzzles, online scavenger hunts, memory games… Adding an element of gamification to your virtual event not only injects some fun into your function (making for a more memorable occasion all-round!), it also boosts engagement through team-based interactions. Plus, there’s scope to introduce a branded element to games, whether it’s a product prize or company-themed quiz.
Prizes can be great networking incentives, too. For instance, if attendees connect with a set number of people, they’ll unlock benefits (such as sponsor discount coupons). In our opinion, there’s nothing quite like a little healthy competition to break the ice!
Organise a workshop session
Workshops are a sure-fire way to get delegates talking; collaborating with a common aim in mind gives the discussion a direction. When it comes to networking, setting a task allows attendees to highlight their skillsets. This is all the more effective if the workshop has industry links. For example, if your virtual event has a corporate focus, having your delegates work together to formulate a business pitch enables individuals to showcase their strengths in action, and demonstrate their professional capacity better than any formal career profile.
Food, glorious food
Just because a post-event dinner or drinks reception is off the table, doesn’t mean food and drink can’t be incorporated into the occasion! In our guide to marketing your virtual event, we share some ways to keep drinks and conversation flowing, such as organising an online cheese and wine tasting session after the main show. Sending hampers or samples out to your delegates beforehand, and establishing “tables” of attendees – another opportunity to get matchmaking-savvy with your group choices – can create a more relaxed environment for networking (with talking points built-in!).
Similarly, you could look to schedule a mid-event coffee break, to give your attendees a chance to grab a hot drink, recharge, and mingle as they would during in-person functions. These little touches show that you’ve considered the wellbeing of your delegates, which goes hand-in-hand with creating an overall positive environment to talk and connect.
Often overlooked, but arguably just as vital: keep the conversation going post-event! By providing the means for delegates to continue networking beyond the day itself, you encourage genuinely meaningful – and potentially more robust – professional relationships.
Again, virtual events work in your favour here. The social media event page you set up in advance can easily become a dedicated space for delegates to keep the conversation open; you could also establish a business communication channel, such as Slack, to this end.
However you choose to go about it, expanding your event’s networking potential will keep attendees engaged long-term, benefitting delegates and planners alike.
Virtual events at W12 Conferences
It’s no secret that a successful virtual event requires powerful technology – that’s why we’ve made sure that every one of our spaces comes fully equipped with state-of-the-art A/V facilities. From the Celia Hensman Suite – a 10-capacity room perfect for intimate meetings – all the way through to our impressive Oak Suite, capable of seating 150 guests, each room benefits from some of the best tech in the industry. LED flatscreens, HD projectors, and screen-sharing systems: whatever your requirements, our A/V facilities will ensure your virtual event runs seamlessly from start to finish. To find out more, our dedicated team would be happy to help! Get in touch here, or on 020 3313 1606.