Many business professionals are finding virtual networking events to be a great way to meet and interact with new people. These new and revamped digital environments offer many perks, such as the ability to attend functions despite your location and more personal interactions with participants.
But sometimes, virtual networking events can get boring and dry, so here are some ways you can make them more interesting to boost engagement.
Your virtual events strategy should have the same goals as any other type of event - create engagement, educate, entertain, and promote. Keeping these goals at the center of your planning will boost engagement throughout your event and even post-event.
Check out our favorite ways to increase engagement below!
The primary goal of a networking event is to connect people with others. While an in-person event would have mixers, happy hours, and meals for these introductions to be made, for virtual events, you need to be more deliberate.
You can make introductions between participants a few different ways. To start, a couple days before your virtual event, send out an email with a list of participants, as well as a brief credential description, their websites, and LinkedIn profiles.
Not only will this pre-introduction give people an idea of the business relationships they'll be making at your event, it also puts all contact information in one place for future connections.
Another way is, instead of jumping straight in to the meat of your event, include one or several ice breakers at the beginning. You can help ease the group with these introductions through prompts, fun questions, and other light, simple conversation starters. You can also use Slide With Friends Meeting Icebreaker deck to get the ball rolling.
When you take the time to make introductions at the beginning of your virtual networking event, you won't just get people sharing, you'll encourage participation for later conversations.
Unlike in-person events where you can't always walk away, it's easy to disconnect or zone out from virtual events. Participants don't want to be at their computers for hours trying to figure out when they should log in or what is going on. It's helpful for attendees to know the general schedule for virtual networking events, specifically when and how long each event will be.
Give your group an idea of when the networking portion will start and how long it might last. If there are breaks, let people know when they will happen. You can communicate this information just before the event starts in an email reminding participants of the start time and any other information they might need.
When you need to add a little extra time, such as for a presentation or round table, be sure to preface it in your agenda so viewers have an idea of what is coming up next.
You can also keep people engaged by starting the event a few minutes early. Being in your Zoom room early to let people in and chat as they enter will give the same feeling as being early to an in-person event.
Not only will sticking to a schedule make virtual events more engaging, it will also encourage commitment from attendees.
While no one likes enforcing rules, guidelines go a long way in making people feel comfortable, thus encouraging more engagement. At the beginning of your virtual networking event, take time to set out some expectations and guidelines. Give the reasons for these rules and let the group know what the consequences will be if they're broken.
Some guidelines to give the group that will also encourage participation and engagement include keeping cameras on, time limits for speaking, and the expectation of privacy.
Of course, if someone does break one of your guidelines, you'll need to address it. Don't be afraid to turn off the camera of a participant or ask them to leave if they continue to break rules. Enforcing these guidelines will allow you to create a more productive environment where attendees feel comfortable and engaged.
Conducting live polls and surveys are simple, effective ways to increase engagement with your virtual event audience. Not only do live polls break presentations up and draw attention back to what's happening, they also boost connections, especially during virtual networking events.
By giving attendees a few polls to take during the virtual event, you'll be not only creating engagement with participants, but also generating content. You can use these results for your website, presentations, or post-event materials for more exposure.
You can also take it one step further and do a live quiz to engage with your audience. Quizzes allow you to chat with participants about their results, answer questions, or just have some fun!
Live polls and surveys are good for virtual networking events because they break up presentations and give viewers something to focus on. This will make virtual events more engaging and fun for participants. You can use Slide With Friends Poll the Audience slide deck to put together a quick poll to check the pulse of your group.
Even though the main purpose of a virtual networking event is to connect with others, having short presentations by industry expert's increases marketability and draw. This is a great way to get new perspectives on things and increase interest in virtual networking events.
Holding these industry presentations during the beginning ofyour event will help keep people interested and tuned in to your agenda. You can also encourage engagement by letting participants choose from a number of presenters, asking them who they'd like to hear from or giving a poll to select the speaker.
Including multiple speakers during your virtual networking event keeps things moving, as people will be able to switchback and forth between sessions. Plus, it’s a great way to give your audience choices.
Make the expert presentations interesting by tying the speakers together in some sort of theme or topic — their areas of expertise might complement each other and spark even more interesting conversations.
Interactive sessions with industry experts are engaging because they give attendees the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives.
While you definitely don't want people holding entire side conversations in your live chat during a virtual networking event, a live chat is a great way to make connections.
One of our favorite ways to utilize the live chat is to give prompts and have people answer in the chat. Whether it's a question or asking for people to share their social media pages, a controlled use of the chat will help people connect with and learn about others. Plus, some attendees may feel more comfortable typing than speaking to the group.
If possible, you should assign someone to monitor the chat during your virtual networking events to ensure it's being used properly. Your monitor can also pass on questions attendees might have without interrupting the flow ofthe program.
Some of the most successful in-person networking events work because they give attendees time to break into smaller groups and really form connections. One way to increase engagement in your online networking event is to create a virtual version of these breakout rooms.
Send out an email before your event so participants can signup for a specific timeslot where they will meet in a chat with other attendees. In these rooms, people can form connections, discuss specific topics, or share insights.
These breakout groups are also an ideal way to provide breaks from the main event. You can make them as casual or as structured as you like, just make sure each group has a monitor and a set time limit so everyone knows when to come back to the next event.
One of the easiest, most entertaining ways to get your event attendees more engaged is to host a virtual happy hour. These casual hangouts lower the buy-in needed to connect and network with others.
Include a virtual happy hour invitation to your guests in an email before the event. Let them know it's a BYOB situation and have a few icebreaker questions on deck to keep the conversation flowing.
Want to take your virtual happy hour up a notch? Consider a Virtual Beer Tasting. We've broken down everything you need to know on finding a guide or hosting your own for your next virtual networking event.
Even the most attentive person can't remember everything presented in hour-long networking events. Ease a little of your participants stress during each of your online networking events by recording presentations or Q&A sessions. Then, after your event, give your participants access to the videos so they can go back over information.
Recording your sessions doesn't cause any distraction during the live event, but it does promote engagement post-event. These videos will serve as great resources and encourage people to continue to build on the relationships they created at your event.
Just be sure to let your attendees know at the beginning of the virtual networking event they will be recorded.
One way to make your virtual networking events more engaging is by encouraging real-time social media sharing. This can be as simple as asking participants to tweet with a specific hashtag during the event or having a designated person post on their own personal accounts about what the attendees are discussing.
Whatever you do, just encourage tweeting and social media sharing during your virtual networking events so you can see who is engaging with your event.
We know thinking about your next event in the midst of your current event may seem overwhelming, but the best time to promote your next event is now.
During your closing conversation, ask attendees if they'd be interested in future events. Let them know you'll keep them updated and offer them a discount for any future virtual events.
It can be tempting to try to get as many attendees as possible for your virtual networking event. However, if the goal is to meet and connect with other's in the industry, too many people make connecting and engaging a challenge.
Look at your resources, goals, and theme. Build your guest list around who you think would benefit most from networking and who could contribute the most. For some events, this may mean limiting yourself to a dozen people. If you have the time and resources, you can increase that number.
The key to finding the right number of attendees to run a successful virtual networking event is if everyone will have a chance to interact and create meaningful connections. And sometimes that means leaving people off your invite list.