The 2021 Guide to Virtual Networking Events
Virtual networking is a powerful way to continue building your personal and professional network, while helping you feel less isolated during the global pandemic. But how does networking take place when you can’t meet with people face-to-face? Although virtual networking events may seem awkward, they’re actually more comfortable and less intimidating than you might think. In this article, you’ll get a lot of ideas and a little inspiration to help you start networking like a boss.
What is Virtual Networking?
Virtual networking is just like in-person networking, only it takes place online. Through web-based technologies and platforms, you can introduce yourself, make new connections, share ideas, and establish mutually beneficial relationships.
The pandemic has made the job market a lot more competitive. Therefore, keeping your connections up to date is more important than ever. Moreover, social interaction helps to keep our spirits up during this challenging time. The good news is everyone is in the same pandemic boat. Remembering that can make reaching out a lot less intimidating. More than likely, people will already be in front of their computers and welcome a friendly invite and chance to chat.
The simple truth is, regardless of the pandemic, ambitious people still want to connect and advance their careers. Networking virtually makes it easier, less time consuming, less expensive, and above all safer than before. It also allows you to effortlessly expand your circle beyond your local group, reaching out to people all over the world.
Types of Virtual Networking Events
Online networking events can be extremely effective in achieving business objectives while highlighting your brand. That said, the current event market is highly saturated, and connecting with people online can be a challenge. To stand out, your online event must be fresh and exciting. It also must create space and opportunity for your attendees to make important connections.
- Breakout Sessions. Breakout rooms or sessions are great for offering attendees networking options, such as scheduled discussions, group chat by topics, and private social media groups. Moderators can move participants in and out of rooms as needed, allowing them to talk with like-minded individuals. By dividing people into smaller groups, you give attendees greater ability to connect and increase the likelihood of their conversations continuing after the event is over.
- Teambuilding Activities that will Get People Talking. One way to connect people is to get them engaged in a fun, shared activity. Offer online cooking classes hosted by local celebrity chefs, cocktail classes, or even unique online fitness experiences. To ensure full participation, be sure to send custom packages containing what they need prior to the event.
- Keynotes or Panel Discussions for the Win! Now is the optimal time to approach high-profile guests who might have more time on their hands than they did pre-pandemic. Securing a big name will bring cache to your event, enabling you to generate interest with your intended audience. Ensure that your platform has interactive tools such as Q&A, event chat, polling, and hand-raising to encourage participants to engage and connect.
How to Structure Your Virtual Networking Event
When considering how to encourage attendance, you need to first define your event goals. What do you need to achieve? Then go on to think beyond the event itself and focus on the value it offers to your potential attendees. Make sure to clearly state the event theme and all the manners in which people will be able to connect, including opportunities for networking and conversation. Outline the ways in which the event will benefit attendees both in the short and long term. It’s always a good idea to subtly include your company’s value prop along with “hosted by”, your logo, and website in all your communications. Then once you know exactly who you want to attract, you can begin scouting out speakers and solidifying your event's details to ensure it resonates with your specific audience.
When it comes to an online networking event, quality is more important than quantity. Limit attendance to eight to ten people, so everyone has the time and space to interact. An exclusive guest list will attract more elite attendees who might be put off by a larger event. To keep it interesting, invite a mix of people, including current contacts, lost contacts, people with whom you’d like to connect with, and industry experts and thought leaders.
How to Market Your Virtual Networking Event
- Know your audience. Understanding who you’re marketing to helps inform the channels and the messaging you use to get the word out.
- Integrate social media. With so many people working from home, almost everyone is on social media right now. This means there’s a good chance your ads will be widely seen. Take advantage of this unique opportunity by using social media and a hashtag across multi-platforms. Create a short video or videos showcasing your event details. That way, you can generate buzz while producing sharable content.
- Launch email campaigns. Make sure to use a catchy subject line that will get people’s attention. Then, in the body of the email, introduce guests by name, including a one-sentence description of who they are, and their LinkedIn profile. Feature the event time and date, as well as other important details. Don't forget to list any software or technology requirements, access codes, and passwords with the initial invitation, as well as in a follow-up email shortly before your event starts.
- Leverage search and keywords. Use a keyword planning tool like Google Ads to discover which words people are using in search engines. Take note of features like autocomplete, related searches, and ‘people also ask’ results to uncover any relevant words relating to your event. Make sure to include them in the content you use to promote your virtual event.
Introducing Participants at an Online Networking Event
Start the session two minutes early so you can provide access as soon as the guests log in. While greeting them, provide guidance about what to expect over the next 90 minutes or however long your event will last. Once everyone is in the event, quickly begin making introductions. To break the ice and encourage conversation, have each person spend a few minutes discussing their professional and personal highlights as well as sharing a fun fact.
Consider a Directory of Participants. Why not create a directory including names, a one-sentence description, a LinkedIn profile, and an interesting fact about each participant? That way, attendees can peruse the list beforehand, allowing them to quickly find people of interest, make pre-event contact, and perhaps even plan to meet in a breakout room.
Virtual Event Ice Breakers & Conversation Starters
As the host, it’s your job to structure the conversation and help build connections between attendees. Here are a few tips on how to get started and keep everyone engaged during and after your event.
- Chit Chat That’s All That: The chat feature is a powerful way to get the conversation flowing, especially for guests who might find it nerve-wracking to speak publicly.
- Participation is Encouraged: Make use of well-thought-out, relevant, and provocative questions during sessions to start lively conversations, debates, and a free exchange of ideas.
- What Do You Think? Use real-time messaging to ask each participant to answer a specific question. It increases engagement while showing them that you value their opinion.
- Take a Break: Create dedicated time slots and locations for attendees to gather and network, such as breakout rooms and lounges.
- Power Tools: The right software and tools will encourage lively online conversations before, during, and after the event.
How to Follow Up after a Virtual Networking Event
- Send a quick thank you email that also encourages participants to connect one-on-one.
- Host a 'Follow Up' session or sessions to address questions or review content covered in the original event.
- Direct everyone to an online space where attendees and hosts can connect once again.
- Link participants with forms and boards containing active discussions, being sure to add more content to keep the momentum going.
What Platform Should I Use to Host My Virtual Networking Event?
Here’s the part of the article where we do a bit of networking ourselves! Now that you know how to network virtually, we’d love to brag about why BlueJeans is perfect for your next event. In addition to great options like immersive video, Q&A, polling, and multi-way idea exchanges, we also offer these important features:
Best-in-Class Sound Quality
At a virtual networking event, one of the most important things for participants is that they are clearly able to hear each other. Theater-class audio by BlueJeans with Dolby Voice provides attendees with pristine audio no matter where they are or which device they join the event on. By suppressing background noise while maintaining consistent volume across soft and loud talkers, Dolby Voice blocks out distractions, delivering crystal-clear conversation that is easy to understand.
Breakout Rooms that Break the Mold
BlueJeans Breakout Sessions deliver an integrated and automated experience at the touch of a button. This feature is especially useful when a small group discussion is preferred. Once the Breakout Session starts, attendees are automatically placed into rooms, while meeting hosts can easily jump from one session to another. Once the breakout period ends, hosts give attendees ten seconds to wrap up and return to the main meeting room. With an intuitive administrative workflow and no physical barriers or cumbersome technology to get in the way, BlueJeans will help you run your next virtual networking event with virtually no problems!
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