How to Host a Virtual Networking Event in 10 Easy Steps
Virtual networking is as easy as inviting guests to a video conference call and mingling with others, right? Not so fast.
A successful virtual networking event requires careful planning and execution to ensure solid attendance and avoid any bumps in the road.
Virtual networking events will never duplicate in-person events to a T, but who says they need to? Just like remote work, networking events don’t need to be in-person. You can just as easily broaden your professional network, nurture relationships, and share knowledge through a virtual event.
Here, we’ll share the best practices for hosting successful virtual networking events. We’ll walk through everything you should consider before, during, and after your virtual event so you can host an event your attendees will love.
1. Define the Purpose of the Virtual Networking Event
Have a clear vision as to why you’re having a virtual networking event in the first place. Online networking events are an effective option for connecting remote teams or expanding your professional network.
Here are some example purposes:
- Build camaraderie with remote coworkers through social lunches or virtual happy hours
- Meet and network with virtual teammates and foster closer personal and professional connections
- Mingle with industry experts, share knowledge, and forge new professional connections
- Create relationships within your industry
Be clear about the value your event offers so invitees get excited!
Image credit: Moz
Virtual events aren’t exactly the same as in-person events, but you can mimic some parts to make sure your event goes off without a hitch.
For example, you can incorporate elements like breakout rooms, Q and A sessions, topic deep dives, or open forums. Ideally, you’d have a few different spaces where attendees can branch-off and have breakout sessions on specific topics.
Image credit: AICPA & CIMA
Q and A sessions and topic deep dives are an excellent choice if you have subject experts who are presenting or are ready to answer questions from attendees. Breakout rooms and open forums work well if you have groups of attendees ready to chat about specific topics they have in common.
3. Pick a Video Conferencing Platform
One of the most important decisions you can make when hosting an online event is choosing the right video conferencing platform. This can make or break your virtual networking event.
You want your event to feel as natural as possible and foster fluid conversations with others — almost as if you’re face-to-face. What’s worse than a video conferencing platform that lags or doesn’t allow for natural conversations?
Weigh the pros and cons of each platform. Think about details like cost and features — for instance, can attendees easily switch between one-to-one interactions and group discussions? Can attendees message the group? How secure is the platform? Is it intuitive to use?
Straightforward video conferencing platforms let you talk to others and send messages, but why limit yourself? You can get creative and use a platform like Gather for a unique and memorable event. Gather lets you customize a virtual space where people can walk around and naturally pop in and out of conversations — almost as if it’s real life.
Image credit: Unbounce
Your email invitations should include key event information so invitees know exactly what to expect. Here’s what your invitees will want to know:
- When does the event take place?
- What is the structure of the event?
- Is there an event agenda?
- Who will be attending?
- How long will the event last?
- How do attendees sign up?
- Do they need to download a video conferencing platform? If so, is there a password for the event?
You should also consider the size of your guest list. You may want to limit your guest list to around eight people if you’re using a straightforward video conferencing platform that doesn’t feature smaller breakout rooms. After all, you don’t want 50 people sitting in one chat room trying to talk over one another. You can expand your guest list if you opt for a virtual networking platform that allows for breakout rooms for small groups and one-on-one conversations.
5. Promote the Event
Your work isn’t over once you’ve sent event invitations. Follow up shortly before your event as a reminder to increase attendance.
For instance, you could introduce some of the attendees on the guest list, give brief bios, and explain what people will gain from attending your event.
Have people sign up for your webinar by outlining common questions and pain points they have. Also preview your speakers so attendees get excited about your event.
Encourage attendees to sign up by setting a time limit on buying tickets. In the email invitation below, a political campaign used a digital timer to show when the event would take place.
Image credit: Marianne Williamson for President
Encourage people to share the event with others who may be interested. Provide a link with key event information so attendees can share across their social media accounts, like LinkedIn.
6. Test Your Tech Setup Beforehand
Have you ever joined an online video conference and had audio or video that lags? It’s frustrating. Luckily, this is avoidable.
At the very least, test your video conferencing software to make sure your internet connection is fast enough to support high-quality video. Do the same check with audio to make sure your microphone is working properly.
This is especially important if you plan on having speakers present during your event. Set up a quick call with speakers beforehand to make sure everything is working well.
When the time comes to host your event, make sure you’re logged in at least five minutes before it starts. Welcome your guests as they join. Keep them entertained with some music while they wait for things to kick off.
Start the event by telling participants how the event is structured and what they can expect. You can also do quick introductions, especially if attendees don’t know one another.
Here is some sample dialogue you can use if you’re wondering how to welcome guests and introduce your event:
I’d like to welcome everyone to the 1st Annual [event name].
We’ve rounded up the best and brightest minds in the [specific industry].
This event is designed to share knowledge across multiple disciplines in the [specific industry] and introduce you to like-minded folks.
You’ll not only be able to meet experts in [specific industry], but you can learn from each other and take away valuable information that will help you grow professionally.
The event will kick off with our keynote speaker — [name] — then follow up with a Q-and-A session.
From there, we will disperse into separate breakout rooms which are organized by theme.
After that, you’ll have time to network with one another one-on-one.
For smaller events, you can have each participant give an introduction and tell a little bit about themselves. You could even line up a few fun ice-breaker questions to lighten the mood and get people talking. These should help get you started:
- What is the most interesting thing you’ve checked off your bucket list?
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
- What advice would you give your 13-year-old self?
For a large group, you can’t introduce everyone, but you can allow the keynote speakers or presenters to give an overview of their experience.
8. Follow the Event Structure
During your event, use pre-appointed moderators to make sure everything runs smoothly. This will help give attendees topics to talk about, move conversations along, and make sure a single person isn’t hogging the limelight or dominating the conversation.
The host can ask participants questions to get things rolling. Once someone responds, you can see if anyone has questions or something to add.
You can also ask attendees to stay muted during any presentations and ask questions by virtually raising their hand or by messaging the group.
Make sure your event doesn’t run over time. It’s best to set the duration of the networking event from 60 to 90 minutes. People have busy lives and may need to jump off. Second, people can get video conferencing fatigue and lose their attention from being on a video chat for too long.
9. Finish Strong
When your event comes to a close, thank guests for attending and give them a way to contact you. This is a great way to maintain relationships and stay in touch after the event.
If the purpose of your event is to find new leads for your business, deliver a call to action to encourage guests to reach out. Let’s look at a few examples from different types of event hosts:
- SaaS startup: Offer an exclusive free trial of your software
- Digital marketing agency: Give free one-hour consultations to attendees
- Video game publisher: Exclusive access to beta versions of up and coming games
10. Follow up With Attendees
It’s good practice to follow up with guests after your event and nurture your new connections. Thank guests again for attending, and give an event summary or list of key takeaways.
This could also include a video recording of presentations or other documents that might be useful from the live event. You can even ask for feedback from attendees to help improve your next virtual networking session.
Image credit: Emma
In the above example, Marketing United sent a post event email that covered the following:
- Feedback survey: The company thanked attendees and then asked them to give feedback regarding the event.
- Video highlight reel: They produced a “best of” video compilation of the top highlights of speeches and workshops.
- Five lessons from the event: They compiled the five most important takeaways to look back on or share.
Host a Virtual Networking Event Attendees Will Love
If done right, online networking events can provide a unique, interactive, and fun experience. Who says you need to be face-to-face to bond with your coworkers or enjoy networking opportunities?
Figure out event logistics and come up with an event structure before your virtual conference. When you host your event, stick to the plan but be ready to adjust if problems come up.
Follow these simple steps, and you’ll have no problem hosting a virtual event that runs smoothly. Try Gather for a unique networking experience your attendees won’t forget.