How To Create Digital Networking Experiences
The current COVID pandemic has greatly compromised setting up any kind of events. As a third of the world population was confined between February and May 2020, event organizers found themselves in a situation where they literally could not do their job and Event Marketing plummeted. Today, even though Europe is progressively lifting containment measures, it is probable that events will never look the same and we need to start thinking about digital networking as the new norm.
Health measures and social distancing, as well as home working, are here now and they will probably stay with us for a long time. It is time to fully embrace digital networking experiences. The question is how do you actually take your event digitally? How do you set it up? Promote it? Create a networking experience?
In order to answer those questions in the most efficient way, Sortlist decided to partner with OFCORES, a Belgian agency specialized in Event Creation and Event Marketing. Caroline Hundhausen, a Communication Specialist at OFCORES, wrote a series of 3 articles regarding the digitalisation of events, in order for you to have all the basics necessary for your own project. Enjoy!
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Attendees and organizers alike state that a top benefit of attending a B2B event is the in-person networking and connection opportunities presented. Therefore, one question we often hear when organisations consider hosting a digital-only event is: ‘How will we be able to provide meaningful networking experiences for online participants?’
Fortunately, plenty of tools are available to generate online interactions that are just as engaging and valuable as in-person exchanges – you just have to think outside the box. This will usually involve considering smaller and more unique ways to bring people together online, such as through themed virtual happy hours, one-on-one video chat scheduling, virtual topic rooms, and more.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing and get some networking results:
Virtual Lounges or Shared Interest Sessions
Try hosting a series of virtual lounges during your next event, with designated facilitators in each to move the conversations forward. Attendees can come and go from these virtual rooms during specific time blocks, and the facilitators can be speakers, volunteers, sponsors, or others.
Such virtual rooms can be as small or large as desired, require prior registration or foresee unrestricted attendance, be topic-focused, be activity-focused, or have no structure at all.
For example, have a happy hour room for attendees to chat over their homemade cocktail of choice, or have a wellness room with guided meditation or yoga. A shared interest virtual networking room could be run by a speaker with more in-depth conversations around a specific topic, or by exhibitors or sponsors who can host games and provide demos or giveaways. Further, a shared interest room for those who have like-job functions or pre-selected common interests can also work well.
Conference Buddy or Mentor System
Assigning a conference buddy or mentor not only helps relieve attendance anxiety at in-person events but also provides a vessel for networking in a virtual environment. Designated buddies can schedule one or two video meetings during the event via your virtual event platform, and you can offer a small (optional) conversation topic starter kit or icebreaker game for these meetings.
Additionally, pre-event questionnaires or conference app algorithms can match buddies based on job function, interest areas, geographic location, or any other useful metric. Providing a buddy system ensures that attendees leave the online event having made at least one meaningful live contact, if not many more.
Virtual Cocktail Tables
In line with the virtual happy hour room, but slightly more structured, are tools that feature a virtual discussion table setup, which imitates the socializing that takes place at in-person cocktail tables or receptions. Participants are presented with a view of the virtual banquet room and they select a table to join. This then takes them to a live video chat with the other people at that table. Seating can be assigned or freely selected.
Worried about awkward video meeting exits or want your guests to be able to meet a larger number of people during your event? Try out a tool that simulates a speed networking gathering.
Some online event platforms can do this by randomly connecting two participants in live, one-on-one video chats to talk to each other for a set amount of time. When the time limit expires, both participants are automatically connected with others. This allows enough time to exchange contact details, enter a nice dialogue and then proceed to make additional contacts.
One-on-One Video Meetings
Most event apps and online event platforms can facilitate one-on-one video meeting scheduling during an event. Participants can schedule these themselves and be given match suggestions through an algorithm based on their interests or work areas. This provides the potential for more targeted and personal networking meetings (with no planning required from the event host!).
Depending on details such as your event budget, registration deadline, and geographic attendance spread, delivering special material for use in digital networking rooms can be a memorable and fun way to engage attendees. Deliveries can be items for signature event cocktail ingredients, sponsor or exhibitor handouts, games, or event-themed materials.
These are only a small sample of the types of digital networking opportunities that can be integrated into your digital event. Virtual settings present you with the opportunity to become more thoughtful about the type of attendees you bring together and the amount of smaller, tailored meeting formats you offer.
Extra Pro Tip: Take advantage of an additional branding opportunity and create a custom event video chat background (or multiple) for online event attendees to use in place of showcasing their home environments.