At in-person networking events, people get the opportunity to build relationships, learn something new or showcase their products and services. The good news for companies embracing virtual events? The same can be done virtually. Here is your guide to networking in 2022's virtual age.
Prep for the Event
So that others know your agenda and you attract the appropriate audience, know the intended message behind your networking event. Is it to market a product or is it to show support for something in the community? Make your goal in hosting a networking event as specific as you can so you know how to gauge its success. The purpose behind your event will also influence its format and design.
Plan the logistics of the event. With a virtual event platform like Chati, you can use a virtual space to format your event in an engaging and user-friendly environment.
Decide how long the event will be and outline the main highlights and activities. Generate presentation ideas and activities specific to your target audience and within your budget.
You can't have a networking event without people. Get the word out and go beyond your usual network. Avenues for finding new attendees include real-life and social media contacts. LinkedIn may provide new faces with similar interests based on their background.
When inviting potential attendees, give a sneak peek of your networking event and a link where they can RSVP. Remember not to go overboard with your guest list. Networking events, even virtually, should be relatively small for better opportunities for connection.
Before the event, share the link with attendees and demos on how to use the virtual platform where the event will be held. Also send out any relevant reading material that will add value to the event, such as information on keynote speakers, if you'll have them.
This is also the time to find out if any attendees will have accessibility issues or time conflicts that they'll need to manage during the day of the event so you're not caught off-guard.
The Event is Underway
You successfully gathered a group of people for your networking event. What's next?
As the host, offer opportunities to break the ice without making people too uncomfortable. Keep it light by having people answer short questions instead of sharing an extensive biography or work history. Ice breakers could be getting people to talk about a favorite hobby or one of their life goals. Try to avoid topics that emphasize a person's job title or company.
During presentations, to better engage your guests, ask thought-provoking questions that spark conversation and foster learning. Also help keep everyone on track by reminding them of the time remaining.
Take advantage of breakout rooms during the event. For fairly large networking events, this could mean letting people break up into smaller groups for more intimate conversations. You can also share links and documents on presentations in these rooms.
Make your event more interesting with these ideas in mind:
If you have keynote speakers, ask them to include a personal anecdote of how they became successful.
Have guests participate in a short virtual skills class where they learn something new and fun so they share a common experience to talk about with each other later. This could include learning a skill that helps them professionally or learning something creative like a craft just for fun.
Like with in-person networking, you may choose to include a casual virtual happy hour where people talk over drinks in a relaxed setting.
Include a speed networking portion where people chat one-on-one about themselves and things they enjoy outside of their professional lives. Don't only emphasize guests' professional lives at your virtual networking event. Let this be a time for them to escape from the work mentality and not feel like they have to connect with others based solely on their work identities. This is a chance for them to connect with like-minded individuals in their personal lives as well.
Hopefully after a good turnout and successful networking event, the gracious host will email thank you letters to each attendee. Wish them well and thank them for their time and attendance. Also share any links or downloadable resources on topics featured at your event and ways to stay in touch, such as social media groups or email lists.
Kindly request any feedback from your audience in the form of your choosing. Helpful ways could include rating scales, comments or short surveys.
If you have other upcoming networking events in mind, don't forget to mention them in your follow-up email. Take the high points from your most recent event and any positive feedback from your guests to promote your next event on your social media platform.