Networking is a key part of the job for many professionals. A networking event is a great option if you’re looking to hold a simple but versatile virtual event. It’s the attendees themselves that make these events valuable, so networking sessions are low-cost too. They’re effective both as stand-alone events and as part of the content schedule at a larger event. Check out these virtual networking event ideas and tips for holding a successful virtual networking event.
What’s the Point of a Virtual Networking Event?
Networking events are all about mingling, meeting new people, and developing new professional relationships. They’re designed with this in mind and often include activities that help attendees meet as many new people as possible.
Given all this, what’s the point of a virtual networking event? How does networking function when an essential element is removed from the equation? Most importantly, if the whole point of networking events is to get people together, can a networking event work when attendees aren’t even in the same room?
And the answer is: Yes, of course. A virtual networking event can and does work, in more or less the same way as a live networking event. It’s true that first-timers often have some initial awkwardness or unfamiliarity. But people who attend online networking sessions find them both enjoyable and valuable.
Virtual networking events are valuable for all the same reasons live networking events are valuable. They help attendees meet other professionals in their industry, not just to make connections but to share information and ideas and find inspiration. For newcomers, networking events can be a great place to find mentorship opportunities.
Plus, virtual networking can bring together people from far-flung locations, who might not have the opportunity to attend events in-person. With virtual networking, attendees can make new connections with people from all over the globe.
Virtual Networking Ideas for Successful Networking Events
What makes a virtual networking event successful? It’s not just one thing, but a handful of important elements that combine to make the event work. The event format and content, the moderator, and other elements are all key to the success of a virtual networking event.
1. Understand the Virtual Format
The virtual format is great for a wide range of events. However, it does have some limitations that can potentially affect the success of a virtual networking session. The good news is, when you know what those limitations are, you can use them to host a successful event.
The main issue is that communication is less intuitive when it happens online. It’s easier for people to miss social cues such as body language and tone of voice. People have to concentrate a little harder to interpret those social cues. Plus, there are often outside distractions vying for their attention. For those who aren’t used to attending virtual events, it can feel awkward. They’re not sure what to do or how to act.
As a result, some people find virtual events more mentally taxing than live ones.
For an online networking event, there are a few things you can do to compensate for this.
- Pick the right virtual events platform.
- Choose a strong moderator with plenty of virtual event experience.
- Keep the group size small or use breakout groups. Smaller groups are easier for online moderators to manage. They’re also less intimidating to the more introverted attendees.
- Keep the session short: no more than 60 to 90 minutes, with a 5-minute break about halfway through.
2. Choose a Virtual Events Platform
The success of a virtual networking event relies heavily on tech—in particular, the virtual events platform you choose to host it. At minimum, you need a video conferencing platform such as Zoom. But relying on Zoom is likely to leave your event wanting because it’s pretty bare-bones in terms of networking-oriented features. Users can create their own profiles and connect with other attendees one-on-one, but that’s about it.
Instead, choose a dedicated virtual events platform with features that enhance the attendee experience, like XtendLive’s 3D immersive platform. The ability to create breakout spaces is a must, along with interactive features such as live polling and Q&A. These features enhance engagement and make the experience more immersive.
Along with tools that enhance the attendee experience, look also for a platform that makes it easy to collect and follow up on leads. Then, once the event is over, it’s just a matter of handing that information over to your sales team so they can take the next steps in the sales cycle.
3. Find a Strong Moderator
Choosing a great moderator is key to hosting a successful virtual networking event. It’s the event moderator who brings it all together. They help attendees feel comfortable in the virtual setting and facilitate the relationship-building that is such an important part of networking events.
Networking events are typically informal in tone, but they’re not quite casual. It can be tough to get the balance right. This is just one aspect of networking events that the moderator has to maintain. The moderator can’t sit back and just let things happen. Even if there are no structured networking games or activities, they still have to take charge and play an active role in the event. More importantly, the moderator has to keep conversation flowing and ensure all attendees have ample opportunities to mix and mingle.
4. Choose an Online Networking Session Format
You wouldn’t just push attendees into a room and shut the door at a live networking event, and, of course, online events don’t work that way either. Networking sessions need structure to help attendees warm up and get talking. Whether it’s a guided discussion, games and activities, or something else, a defined structure helps attendees get the most out of the session.
Some virtual networking ideas for event formats include:
- Moderated discussion: The group discusses a specific topic, guided by the session moderator. The moderator must ensure everyone has an equal chance to speak while guiding the discussion to a satisfying conclusion within the allotted time.
- Networking activities: Icebreaker games and other networking-focused activities are useful because they’re engaging, and they encourage people to mingle.
- Breakout groups: If the main group is larger than 8 to 10 people, it’s beneficial to break up into smaller groups for activities. Large groups can be difficult to direct online. Breaking off into smaller groups means it’s easier for moderators to keep discussion and activities flowing.
- Virtual speed networking: With this format, you divide the session into blocks of 5 to 10 minutes, then split attendees into different pairs or small groups for each session. Provide a list of discussion questions, and put each pair or group into its own breakout space.
5. Prepare Your Attendees in Advance
It’s always a good idea to provide attendees with guidance ahead of time, so that they know what to expect when they show up at the event. Session time is limited, so sending out some event guidelines can help save time too.
Some points to include in a pre-networking-event email might be:
- Tech setup advice: Include a link to the event and instructions on how to join the session and set up any necessary equipment.
- Platform demonstration: If the virtual events platform has a demonstration that shows how to set up and use it, include a link for attendees.
- Session outline/agenda: Include a brief rundown on what attendees can expect at the event. For events that include discussion topics, share any relevant reading material.
- Code of conduct: Outline what conduct is expected of attendees. Make sure to consider not just what’s best for the event but also how expected behavior aligns with the event host’s values.
- Ask for input: Ask attendees to contact you if they have any questions or if they have accessibility needs.
Virtual Networking Event Ideas That Work for You and Your Attendees
Many people prefer to network in person, but a successful virtual networking session might just change their minds. With the right virtual events platform, a strong moderator, and a well-planned session framework, you can hold online networking events that your attendees will love.