9 Tips for Making your Virtual Networking Successful
January 11, 2021
You’re here because you’ve probably run a virtual event (or two!) and have received feedback from your clients that they need more engagement to capture attendee’s attention - and you're scratching your head trying to figure this out.
We know from surveys and feedback from planners that virtual events are not going away. But there's only so much you can do with Zoom breakout rooms....
92% of event planners plan to incorporate virtual events in their events strategy after COVID-19 with some sort of hybrid model coming 2021. So how do we make virtual networking more engaging?
First off, why do we need networking?
68.8% of attendees still say their biggest pain point with events is networking and 67.7% is engagement (Bizzabo).
Networking is one of the main reasons why attendees go to conferences and events in the first place so don’t overlook it in the virtual world. It might not be the exact same as real life, but as a Forbes article put it, if you do nothing else - do this!
And incorporating in-the-moment networking keeps engagement high and gives attendees a reason to go to the event instead of waiting for the recording afterwards - which we know a lot of people do.
We have run over 2000+ events in 2020 on Rally ranging from company parties, cocktail hours, receptions, networking events and corporate meetings with over 50% specifically in the networking space and here’s what we’ve learned:
1. Keep virtual events short (a single day vs. a five-day event)
Attendees don’t want to sit through 8 hours of Zoom presentations let alone 5 days of it! Many companies and organizations are even saying you need to keep the event to less than 4 hours (Hospitality Net) to keep engagement high. According to Bizzabo, 57% of events are single-day compared to multi-day event with only 14% of them being larger formats.
Attendees need time to stretch, go for a bio-break, grab a drink, and relax their eyes a bit. Cvent recommends holding no longer than 90 minute sessions without a break - and even better if it’s 75. The same goes for networking sessions - keep them short and impactful for the best engagement.
But too short can be detrimental as well because attendees won’t have enough time to join and start networking. We find the best range is between 30-45 minutes long with anything less than 15 minutes being too short (which is just enough time to hit the washroom and come back!).
3. Make the session purposeful
Attendees are yearning for different, unique and interesting sessions to go to that relate to them. This not only goes for the actual event (with professional and intellectual growth, community, culture and live performances being some of the more popular topics) but for networking as well..
Why are attendees going to the networking lounge?
Are there topics for them to talk about in each room, or interesting people they want to meet?
It helps to have different roundtable discussion topics in each room for attendees to refer to. Being able to attach icebreaker questions and topics as a PDF in each room also helps moderate discussions and facilitate meaningful discussions among the groups.
4. Networking breaks work better than an open networking lounge
Keeping a networking lounge open all day during the event drives less engagement than having specified timeslots throughout the day for networking.
This goes back to the previous point about why attendees are going to certain sessions. Without a purpose, attendees will go to the networking lounge and if no one’s there, they’ll tend to leave. But having pre-set 30 minute networking sessions drives people to those sessions - all at the same time.
5. Having a moderator or facilitator increases engagement
Having a good moderator or host to facilitate small group discussions every 10 minutes is important in driving engagement. And for larger scale events, a professional moderator (maybe someone who use to be a TV host) is key!
For our NEVYs Pre-party event on Rally, each room had a moderator that hopped to a new table to greet each new attendee who came in! This not only provided a better attendee experience because they got greeted each time by the host but also, creates a more personable experience for the event!
6. Try an opening reception instead of an end of day networking session
Attendees are usually tired or “zoom-ed” out at the end of a conference to continue networking online.
Instead of choosing to run an end of day networking session, why not opt for an opening reception to kick-off the event? We’ve seen success with running opening receptions for our ELFA conference and NEVY’s VIP Pre-party where everyone was energized to network before the main session starts!
7. Don’t expect everyone to network
From the events we’ve run, expect 30-40% of your attendees to network.
At an in-person event, not all attendees will want to hang out afterwards to network with others and now with virtual events, it’s even harder to convince them to stay with competing priorities at home ("eh hemm, please pay attention to me!" - Pets at Home)
On Rally, to drive more engagement, open up just enough rooms so they fill up and attendees will wantto join the rooms to network - because they don't want to miss out on the fun! Just like a real networking event - you’re more likely to walk in and start mingling with others when there are more people there you can talk to. The great thing is, if you want to move on to another subject from the table you’re sitting at, just click “Join” and hop to another table!
8. Drive attention to networking rooms
Make sure your attendees know there’s a networking session and the start time so they can jump right in. Without any direction, attendees may not join because they don’t know what to expect. This seems trivial but can be overlooked when there’s so many things going on.
Use notifications and emails to inform guests when things are starting. As a host on Rally, take advantage of our chat broadcasting feature to let attendees know when the rooms are closing and when general sessions are starting again to facilitate movement.
9. Customize rooms so they look and feel like a networking session
Your attendees don't want to feel like they're in another Zoom call again. So let's change that for them!
Change the look and feel of each room by not only customizing the name but the backgrounds to reflect any theme that you want! Beach theme, holiday theme, different planets, different magical worlds (try Hogwarts Houses or Lord of the Rings yesss!) and even change the background music as well!
This makes a huge difference in how your attendees will feel when they're networking and will go a long way in making them feel a bit closer to an in-person event.
And that's it! Do you have other tips to share? We’re always eager to hear of new ways to better the virtual networking experience.
Let us know what you think by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting us @rallydotvideo