It wasn’t all that long ago when networking events consisted of looking at colleagues square in the eyes and shaking their hands. Today, coworkers are spread across the globe, remotely working together from individual home offices. But lack of physical proximity doesn’t have to mean we forego valuable networking events. Intead, virtual networking has emerged as a leading trend among businesses small and large.
What is Virtual Networking?
What is virtual networking? Virtual networking occurs when colleagues, associates and coworkers communicate from remote locations via virtual event tech, including your choice of video conferencing platform. Virtual networking events can occur through traditional video conference meetings or a host of other types of unique virtual networking events.
Benefits of Virtual Networking
There are a variety reasons why more small businesses are jumping aboard the virtual networking bandwagon. Hosting virtual networking events for your teams and colleagues provides the following benefits:
- Build better business relationships – When colleagues socialize using video conferencing tools, they are able to build closer business relationships, which can boost teamwork and productivity.
- Save money – Hosting a virtual networking event can be just as much fun and foster just as much teamwork as an in person event, but virtual events generally cost less to host than their counterparts.
- Include more people – While attendees must be nearby to attend an in person networking event, anyone can attend a virtual event from any location in the world. All guests need to attend a virtual networking event is an internet connection and a computer or mobile device.
- Have fun – Virtual networking events are great ways to break up a monotonous work schedule. Colleagues that have fun together can return to their primary projects refreshed and with a greater sense of teamwork.
- Stay healthy – Virtual networking events are attended remotely, so attendees don’t have to worry about wearing masks, social distancing or spreading illness. Everyone at the virtual event can smile and relax!
Virtual Networking Tips for Before the Event
It can take a lot of work to host a virtual networking event, so planning and finding out all you can about how to host a virtual event is key. The following tips will help you plan a successful virtual networking event in the days before the event:
1. Set Goals
What do you want to accomplish during your virtual networking event? Be sure and determine your goals for the virtual event before determining guests, speakers or activities.
2. Select Guests
Who will you invite to the virtual networking event? Be sure to choose an appropriate number of guests for your planned activities, and include speakers and other participants who will help meet your goals.
3. Send a Calendar Invite
Be sure and give your guests plenty of advanced notice of the virtual networking event. By sending a calendar invite, you can announce and promote the event, while providing attendees a convenient reminder of the important date.
4. Be Aware of Time Differences
While including attendees from different locations is a benefit of virtual networking events, hosting guests from multiple locations can complicate schedules when drastic time differences are involved. When scheduling your virtual networking event, be sure to consider some attendees might be in a certain timezone, while other attendees might be on a schedule hours apart.
5. Choose Your Tools
What video conferencing tools or virtual event platforms will you use to host your virtual networking event? Popular platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams are available to host and attend virtual events. Be sure to choose tools that will promote the goals for your event, and be sure the platform is assessable to all attendees.
6. Promote Your Virtual Event
Even if you’ve already filled your guest list, it’s important to market your virtual event. Promoting the virtual networking event through email, social media and even via a website helps begin to engage guests with your content and one another, and it generates excitement for what’s to come.
Tips for During the Virtual Event
So, you’ve carefully planned and prepped for successful virtual networking events. Now what? On the big day, be sure to consider the following tips during the virtual event:
7. Start with Introductions
To boost audience engagement, it’s important that guests are comfortable with speakers and with one another. Start your virtual event with introductions and make sure everyone knows with whom they will be networking. An icebreaker can do wonders to get the networking ball rolling.
8. Utilize Breakout Sessions
You still can host a successful networking event even if your group is too large for everyone to greet. Utilize breakout sessions to network among a small group. Designate breakout rooms within your video conference session to promote more individual engagement.
9. Encourage Structured Conversation
It is positive to have meaningful conversations in a virtual world. Rather than a virtual event filled with unorganized chatter, encourage structured conversations that help to accomplish the goals for your event. Suggest strategic topics, and if possible lead the group through its discussions.
10. End Strong and On Time
Be sure and monitor the time during your virtual event. If you’ve promoted a 90-minute virtual networking event, be sure and stick with that timeframe even if everyone is still engaged in a positive disucssion after 88 minutes. Plan to end your virtual event on a strong note, and issue a call to action that incorporates your goals for the event.
Tips for After Virtual Networking Events
The recipe for a virtual event’s success doesn’t end when the networking concludes. Just as you would place a follow up sales call following an important pitch, you want to check in with your attendees following the virtual networking session. So, make sure to follow these business networking tips.
11. Send Thanks
Be sure and maximize engagement with your guests following your virtual networking event by emailing words of gratitude to participants and attendees. Let them know their attendance was appreciated, and get them excited for the next virtual event.
12. Ask for Feedback
No matter how smoothly you run your virtual event, there is always room for improvement. Be sure and ask your attendees for their valuable feedback following the networking event. When possible, apply these suggestions to future virtual events.
13. Promote Future Events
It’s never too early to start promoting your next virtual networking events. When thanking your guests and asking for their feedback, be sure and start generating excitement for future events, whether it’s more virtual networking or a live event.
Virtual Networking Event Ideas
Hoping to build relationships with colleagues during a virtual networking event, but unsure what type of event to host? Your team can spend time networking and having fun in a variety of ways, including the following virtual event ideas:
Designed to split larger audiences into smaller groups that can better engage with one another, breakout rooms promote participation at networking events. Many video conference platforms allow groups to split into breakout rooms before rejoining the main event.
Speed networking allows participants to form many new connections with colleagues and potential clients in a brief period of time. Large groups are split into breakout rooms, but they only meet for a few minutes before the groups are rearranged and the networking starts again.
Virtual Happy Hour
Groups can participate in virtual happy hours by a sharing a mocktail or cocktail recipe in advance. Then, during the virtual networking event, attendees can enjoy their own beverage from the comfort and safety of their homes and offices.
Audiences can network with a panel of speakers during a Q&A session. Instead of every attendee speaking with each other, virtual event guests can learn more about a small group of speakers. Encouraging audiences to ask questions is a great way to encourage individual engagement.
Much like a Q&A session can introduce an audience to a small group of speakers, a moderated discussion is a great way to network among groups of like minded individuals. Topics can be posed by the session moderator or the event host, and discussion can be structured to support the goals of the event.
You don’t have to meet with colleagues in person to enjoy participation in a book club. If you have a group of book lovers, designate titles that everyone can read and discuss during virtual networking events.
Much like a virtual happy hour, wine tastings can take place remotely. Attendees can choose their own wines to enjoy during a video conference, or the group can determine which flavors it will try together.
Even classic dinner parties now can occur as virtual events. Instead of colleagues meeting and eating together in person, the organization can have meals delivered to each home office prior to the virtual event… or it can provide gift cards to guests so they can create their own feasts to enjoy via video app.
This article, “13 Virtual Networking Tips” was first published on Small Business Trends