Online networking events bring many benefits to organisers, sponsors, and attendees alike.
However, the question on everyone’s mind remains the same: how can we foster the same meaningful relationships at online events compared to in-person events?
Due to the nature of being online, it can be particularly difficult to create the same connections that in person networking offers. Think about it, you’re grabbing a coffee in the canteen and you bump into a keynote speaker. It’s natural, it’s relaxed, and you’re able to chat without it feeling ‘set up’.
At iVent, we totally understand how this poses a challenge when moving over to virtual events where things have to be more organised. But fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to foster meaningful connections at online events to help you create new business opportunities and expand your network.
Let’s start by breaking this down into what you can do before, during, and after the event to make sure it is a success for everyone involved.
How to Create Strong Relationships at Online Networking Events
As we’ve touched on, whether you’re an exhibitor, sponsor or delegate, there are various things you can do to take advantage of virtual networking opportunities. Just because you’re connecting remotely, there is no reason why you can’t build key relationships.
Let’s start with what you can do before the event, as preparation is key.
Before the Event
Getting ready for the event is vital to it being a success. The same applies for in-person events as you should never just turn up and hope for the best.
By planning and doing your research beforehand, it will help you feel more confident throughout the event. This is the perfect recipe for success, and means you’re not flapping around at the last minute.
Learn About Your Fellow Delegates
You should always know who else is attending the event so that you can start reaching out to key people. The virtual event platform will tell you who is attending the event, what company they are from, and their job role.
Make sure you check this out a few days before the event and bookmark your dream list. This consists of people who you want to connect with so that you can research them in more detail. If you identify a good business opportunity, you can schedule a meeting in advance, and start preparing questions you want to ask.
You don’t want to go into a meeting blind. If this is an important business lead then doing your research first is essential. Show them that you’re interested, and that you have taken the time to find out who they are and what they do.
Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform
Before hosting any type of event, you need to choose the right virtual event platform. You don’t want a networking experience which is impersonal and boring. This will not encourage people to stay as leaving the virtual event is only a click away. It is much easier to leave a virtual event than an in-person event, so make sure people have a reason to stay.
Modern event platforms such as iVent, deliver immersive online experiences which provide maximum value to attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors alike. By utilising ‘Meeting Manager’ you can schedule a meeting with up to 25 people and screen share to ensure everyone is focussed on the same topic. Delegates can also schedule their own meetings and meet instantly with others they find online.
Practice Your Pitch
Practice makes perfect! Whatever you do, don’t go into a pitch with lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. It sounds unprofessional and unrehearsed.
By practising your pitch before the virtual event, it will help you feel more confident and relaxed. This will allow you to perfect your message and focus on what you’re trying to say. In turn, this facilitates networking opportunities as you can concentrate better on what others are saying rather than worrying about your own introduction.
This helps you build better connections that will last long after the virtual event has ended. People appreciate being listened to and it’s very obvious when people are thinking about something else. By knowing what you want to say, you can give other people your undivided attention.
Use Meeting Manager
With iVent’s ‘Meeting Manager’, organising your meetings has never been easier.
Before your virtual event starts, you can easily log on and view your upcoming day via ‘today’s view’ which shows any meetings that you are hosting or attending.
You can also filter your meeting by location or simply search for a meeting that you might be interested in. Further information about the meeting can be accessed via ‘Go to Meeting Details.’ Within this feature, you can see how many participants are attending as well as the time of the meeting so you can select which meetings you wish to attend.
As an attendee, you can also find more information about the meeting host including who they are and details of their social media links. This saves you time sifting through various channels as all of the information lives in one place. You can also message the host directly if you wish to reach out to them on a 1-2-1 basis.
This functionality gives you more control over your schedule and allows you to choose which networking opportunities you want to take advantage of. Not every networking session will be beneficial for you so this lets you be selective and make best use of your time.
During the Event
Now we’re into the meat of it! You’ve logged on and you’re part of the virtual event. So how do you leverage the unique advantages of virtual networking?
Let’s take a look.
How can you get to know someone’s business if you don’t ask questions? People love to talk about their business and by asking questions, you’re showing them that you’re interested. Only because you’re not physically in the same room, it doesn’t mean you can’t start a conversation.
Event platforms should offer a variety of formats to help you interact with other delegates and exhibitors. For example, live chat and video chat where people can get together and discuss different topics. At iVent, we know people get keyboard fatigue and sometimes it’s nice to put a face to a name. That’s where video chat comes in useful and it’s much more personal to see the person behind the screen!
There is also the option for delegates to set up 1-1 meetings if they want to reach out to another attendee directly for a more focussed discussion. Admins and exhibitors can also schedule group calls allowing them to network with a specific group of people on a deeper level. You can also restrict who can access these meetings for maximum control.
A virtual lounge is a great way for like-minded individuals to come together to share their ideas and feedback in a more relaxed setting. Perhaps a presentation has just ended and people have some burning questions or some creative ideas that they want to share with other people in their industry.
As a result, a virtual lounge is a great way for delegates and exhibitors to network in between meetings or presentations without it feeling forced. So grab a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy some healthy discussion. And even better, you don’t have to move from your seat!
This can be one of the biggest challenges when converting your in-person events to virtual, as so much networking takes place in corridors, canteen queues, and after parties, often with little planning. A virtual lounge is therefore a great way of replicating this informal setting.
You can also join discussions, participate in polls and/or comment on them, share your concerns with fellow attendees, and ask people if they are interested or have experience in certain areas. This may then springboard you into a 1-1 meeting where you can explore the topic in more depth. At Ivent, you can have multiple chat rooms or lounges so you can participate in specific discussions and polls, thereby connecting with more people who share similar interests.
Participate in Event Games
Gamification involves introducing games into other areas of an activity to increase participation. Essentially, by adding games to your virtual event, it gives people a reason to contribute in exchange for ‘winning’ points or a prize. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a bit of healthy competition?!
Gamification examples include badges, trophies, points, ranking systems, and leaderboard templates. These games are very effective as by nature, games are addictive and engaging. Everybody wants to win, and they love the thrill of beating their colleagues and team mates.
This is a great way of facilitating successful networking as gamification is a fantastic icebreaker.
All too often people can feel awkward to reach out to one another or to start a conversation first. However, this technique injects some fun into your online networking and can be a great way of connecting with other businesses in a more lighthearted format.
Virtual event booths are the equivalent of the physical exhibition stands you see at trade shows or festivals – but they’re better! By having a fully branded, customised booth it makes it easy for exhibitors and sponsors to connect with delegates. Plus there’s so much you can offer that in-person booths lack…
From integrating your social media links, to uploading unlimited resources for your delegates, you can really impress your visitors. A virtual event booth isn’t drab or dreary, and it isn’t created from a standardised template. It contains all the functionality that you could possibly want plus a whole range of interactive features that makes it easy to expand your network.
If you know a promising prospect is attending your virtual event, then reach out to them and invite them to your booth. Alternatively, you can send them an invite for a video chat where you can kick start the discussion. The choice is yours.
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Online networking can also be leveraged during a presentation as you can engage and collaborate with other attendees whilst the presentation is taking place.
This allows you to explore a topic in the moment while the information is fresh in your mind. Also as a host, you can take advantage of tools such as screen-sharing, whiteboards, polls, tests, and live chat so you can engage attendees through a variety of formats.
You also have the option of a multi-presenter view if you’re hosting a panel discussion. This allows numerous presenters from across the globe to be on screen at the same time and creates the feeling of everyone being in the same room. Your audience can then utilise live chat to ask questions throughout, or you can bring them live on the screen to enhance engagement even further.
Use Meeting Manager
iVent’s ‘Meeting Manager‘ isn’t just useful before your virtual event, it’s fantastic throughout the duration of your event (and beyond, which we will explore in the next section).
With the ‘Instant Meetings’ feature, online networking is transformed. Delegates can choose who is online right now and invite them to a 1-2-1 video chat. These meetings are designed to spark engagement and connectivity as no set-up is required. The clue is in the name – the meeting is instant. Simply find who you want to connect with using the ‘Who’s Here’ functionality, click a button and reach out to chat straight away..
You can also schedule a meeting in advance with ease, as the system is simple and intuitive. Meeting configuration will define how much you leave up to the system, or you can put yourself back in the driving seat and take more control.
Furthermore, from your ‘Meeting Details’ screen you can access a whole bunch of information such as the time of your meeting, the agenda, and the location. This allows attendees to gain an overview of what your meeting is about before they attend to ensure they get the most out of the session.
If you wish to edit or cancel your meeting, you can do so via the ‘options’ tab which keeps all attendees up to date and ensures the virtual event is a success.
After the Event
The beauty of virtual events is that they’re never really over. Of course, the day does come to an end and everyone logs off, but you shouldn’t stop your networking there. Get the most out of your virtual event and continue to nurture leads.
With the iVent platform, this has never been more convenient.
Simply find people you want to reach out to and add them to your connections. This means even if you don’t get a chance to chat with them during the actual event, you can collate a list of connections which you can follow up later. Time can easily run away from you at an online event, and having the flexibility to go back to this list at your own convenience is a huge benefit.
Let’s take a look at some of the best practices surrounding online networking once the event has ended.
Engage in Digital and Social Media Marketing
Social media should be your go-to when it comes to online networking. This is a very valuable tool and is an excellent way of keeping in touch with attendees long after the virtual event. Make sure you follow up with leads – even if this is just a simple message on LinkedIn.
Most virtual events have their own hashtags which will be advertised in welcome packs and on their website. Make sure you join in the conversation and use these hashtags whenever you’re talking about the event, whether that’s sharing your feedback about a presentation or discussing a product demonstration.
Use Data and Analytics
Data and analytics are invaluable when hosting a virtual event. They allow you to measure its success, and most importantly, craft even better future events based on what you have learned.
In terms of networking opportunities, as an exhibitor or host, you will be able to access attendee data long after the virtual event has finished. So, if you’ve ran out of time and missed a networking opportunity, there is no need to fret! You can simply log back onto the platform and follow it up. As we’ve mentioned, the iVent platform allows you to add ‘connections’ which you can reach out to at your leisure – perhaps at a time which is more suitable.
Event admins can also pinpoint the location of where attendees have joined from, allowing you to tap into markets that you might not have considered. This allows you to expand your networking opportunities even further, potentially spanning across the globe.
Use Meeting Manager
As a host, once your meeting is complete you will be able to access a range of statistics such as meeting duration.
You will also be able to access recordings which is very useful when crafting future virtual events and planning content. By watching the meeting back, you will be able to identify topics of interest which resonated well with your audience. Maybe there’s a particular part of your pitch which sparked lots of questions. Use this information to build and improve on future online networking events.
Recordings are also useful if you’re demonstrating a product to different prospects as you can re-use the content instead of starting all over again. Moreover, there will always be someone who is unable to attend the event yet still needs access to the same information, which makes recordings a valuable resource.
How to Foster Meaningful Relationships at Online Networking Events
Online networking events offer exhibitors, sponsors, and delegates a range of opportunities to meet new people and grow their network. That said, it’s perfectly normal to be sceptical about how online networking forges the same meaningful relationships as in-person events.
However, by using the above post as a checklist, you can effectively engage with new businesses despite existing in two different dimensions. Only because a computer screen is in the way, it shouldn’t stop you from establishing mutually beneficial relationships.
At iVent, we are the experts in virtual events.
Whether that’s online networking events, virtual careers fairs, or product launches, we are the platform that does it all. We’re committed to our clients and work closely with each and every one to create an outstanding online event that exceeds expectations. We believe that virtual events require a dedicated approach – it’s not a one size fits all. That’s why we work with you to create a bespoke platform that engages your target audience.