How to Bring the Magic of In-person Networking to Your Next Virtual Event
Planning to host a virtual networking event? Read our tips on how to keep your attendees engaged and make sure your event facilitates connections.
There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when thousands of people gather together for a conference or industry event.
Standing in line for a coffee, you may strike up a conversation with someone who ends up hiring you a few years later. Cracking jokes over appetizers and drinks could lead to a big business deal. Someone you meet at a partner dinner could end up changing their flight to spend a few days exploring a brand new city with you – the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
When COVID-19 restrictions forced events to go virtual or hybrid, many event marketers worried that magic would be lost. But with the help of tools like Whereby, it’s possible to reclaim some of those spontaneous connections, even if attendees don’t live in the same city or country.
Here’s what you need to know about running a virtual event that facilitates connections:
Make networking a priority in event planning
Many top-notch in-person events suffer from haphazard networking programming. How many of us have been in a room with a bunch of people wearing name tags and called it networking? We’ve all been there. But online, you can’t take those same kinds of shortcuts.
Brella, a hybrid events platform based in Helsinki, Finland, pivoted during the pandemic to become a premier networking service for online events, powered by Whereby Embedded. Originally founded as a matchmaking service for in-person events, the company was uniquely positioned to help introduce online event attendees to one another.
“How do you know who to talk to when there might be 1,000 attendees? You might only have time to meet 10 or 15 people, so you want to be efficient and maximize the time you do have.”– Ville Vanhala, Brella’s co-founder and Head of Customer Success
Brella’s AI matches event attendees based on their shared interests, which then connects attendees together to schedule on-site networking for hybrid events or video calls. It also recommends people with similar profiles and enables event sponsors to set up virtual booths and specify the kinds of prospects they’d like to meet.
“Video meetings empower everyone, especially if they’ve been home for quite some time. Building trust is important in our business, and that includes attendees and the sponsors who are there to meet prospects and potential customers.”– Ville Vanhala, Brella’s co-founder and Head of Customer Success
Event organizers often think that attendees come for the content or speakers (and for good reason – that’s what they’ve likely spent months coordinating). But it’s networking that’s going to drive the most engagement for your virtual event. According to the Nordic Business Forum, attendees who scheduled video meetings during the event with a sponsor were 18% more likely to attend future events, and sponsors saw three times better customer retention.
Bring in the best parts of physical events
Think about your favorite events you’ve attended and what made them amazing. It’s often the little things that matter most: small details like a booth passport, conversation cards at lunch, or quick post-event conversations.
Those are exactly the moments that Onemotion sought to recreate using Whereby Embedded. They hand-picked their favorite parts of in-person events to build immersive, branded virtual experiences that have been so successful, they’ve turned the service into a separate company called vVenues.
“We shortlisted the parts of physical events that we felt really contribute to the overall experience for attendees, and built out our requirements for a virtual service we could offer our clients. We knew we couldn’t export people out of the platform when it came to offering video functionality, because that would take them out of the experience.”– Mats Mileblad, CEO, Onemotion and vVenues
Offering this solution allows customers running events to completely rethink what’s possible. It mimics the experience of going to a physical event, from the moment an attendee enters and gets their “lanyard,” to the “speed-dating” function that allows attendees to talk to one another one on one, to the hybrid event booths where attendees can speak in person or digitally to vendors. In fact, 82% of survey respondents who attended vVenues events reported that they felt no different than going to an event in-person.
“The pandemic forced us to open a door. But now our customers are realizing that their events do not have to be constrained by geographic limitations.”– Mats Mileblad, CEO, Onemotion and vVenues
As you build out your virtual event, don’t forget to include smaller magic moments, like:
Coffee and snack breaks: While it’s exciting to think about the content you’ve lined up, be sure to build in enough time for coffee and snack breaks throughout the virtual event. If your event is more than an hour long, your attendees are going to need a break. Make it extra fun by doing a small cooking demonstration or gourmet coffee demo as part of the break, so attendees can follow along. (Bonus points if you send the ingredients to attendees so they can follow along in their homes!)
Event tracks: With virtual events, it’s important to try and make sizes more manageable, so attendees can stay focused and feel like their questions are heard and answered. Breaking up your event into tracks helps attendees self-sort into subjects most important to them, and gives you a chance to open up the floor and make sessions more interactive.
Transition time: At an in-person event, transitions are primetime for networking, especially at larger venues. Online, give your attendees a chance to mix it up, stretch, and take a break from looking at a screen, chat with another attendee digitally, or provide a little light-hearted entertainment, like a rapid fire interview with a VIP, a live band, or an icebreaker game.
How to make connections last, virtually
But what about as an attendee? It’s one thing to plant the seeds of great networking as an organizer, and quite another to try and nurture connections in the moment. Whether you’ve attended a bunch of virtual events or are gearing up for your first one, you don’t have to discount networking as part of your experience. It can be easy to focus solely on the content (or worse, multitask with work asks) but virtual networking is possible if you do it with intention.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the virtual event platform. The more comfortable you are using the technology, the more seamless it will feel when you are ready to connect with someone. Get a feel for where things are in the app, choose the sessions you’re most interested in, and if you can, browse through the list of attendees for people with something in common to you – maybe they work at a company you’ve always dreamed of joining, or maybe they just live around the corner. Either way, a little preparation can make things a lot more interesting.
During the event, take advantage of designated networking breakout rooms or virtual happy hours. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, even if it’s just asking how people thought the last session went, or which session was their favorite. You all have something in common: You’re attending the same event! You may be surprised at what you find.
Finally, the key to making connections last is following up after the event. If you’ve truly hit it off with someone via chat or video call, send them a quick thank-you note or LinkedIn request. Schedule a follow-up networking call for a few months down the line to catch up, or if you’ve offered to help with something, follow through on their request.
Bring the magic back with Whereby Embedded
Virtual events don’t have to be boring. Bring the magic of in-person events to life virtually with Whereby Embedded. You’ll have access to features like:
Waiting Rooms: Before a session begins, don’t leave your attendees hanging. It’s the perfect way to make an impression before the session starts, and you can customize your rooms to include important logistical information (such as the conference schedule, etiquette rules, or the fact that yes, the session is being recorded.)
Breakout Groups: Speaking up in a huge crowd can be intimidating even for the world’s most confident extrovert. Organizing Breakout Groups by subtopic, interest, or job title creates a more intimate, guided conversation that allows attendees to really get to know one another.
Live Reactions: As a speaker, it can be difficult to gauge how your content is landing – or what your audience needs to know – without seeing them in person. With polls, live emoji reactions, and chat, Whereby Embedded allows you to easily take the pulse of your audience and help tailor content to what they need.