Hosting a virtual event is new territory for most event planners, but as we navigate this new normal, online networking is becoming increasingly important to bring people closer and provide networking opportunities.
Networking is a necessary part of professional life and the lack of in-person events does not change this.
Let’s learn more about virtual networking events and how to plan one.
What do you do in a virtual networking event?
A virtual networking event is all about bringing people together. It is purely about connection, interaction, and engagement between people online. This pandemic didn’t destroy business lunches and spirited conversations. It just brought them online.
The good news is that virtual networking works! Virtual event planners and event production houses in Malaysia are moving toward a virtual world.
We faced challenges as this is not what we normally did prior to the pandemic. But with the right tools, planning, creativity, and a little luck, any event planner can bring a memorable experience through their events.
Types of virtual networking events
Virtual business networking events that you can host for industries and companies will be as below:
Virtual business networking events
- Industry-specific events
These provide the best way to learn from others within the same industry. Most of them have the presence of a special guest and information provided is always relevant to acquire new knowledge or know the news within the industry.
- Round tables
These are a wonderful opportunity to open a discussion that can lead to new ideas, new directions, and some motivation. Networking makes it possible to exchange ideas and get feedback on recent projects as well.
These events are usually specific to a determined industry.
- Work breakfast
This is a less industry-specific and more location-focused event. It can be held in the morning before the start of the workday. It is a fun way to create networking without interruptions. You can launch new ideas and get the opinions of potential employers or clients.
- After-hours events
Virtual networking mix with informal drinks and finger food. The atmosphere is more relaxed and often makes approaching strangers a little easier.
Virtual social networking events
A social networking event is the use of internet-based social media sites to make people stay connected with friends, family, colleagues, customers, or clients. Below are few types of virtual social networking events that can be done:
- Educational workshop
Launching a podcast series, discussing entrepreneurship, hobby classes, personal branding, etc are a part of educational online workshops. These types of virtual events can open your ideas to your community. They can share their expertise and experience with all. Others can learn new skills for any of the above.
- Wellness workshop
Wellness or self-care focused workshops are one of the great ways to attract attendees like for rest and relaxation. Meditation or yoga workshops can be a perfect way to gather attendees for some positive vibes. Participants also can share their own wellness methods and best practices.
- Virtual coffee
Create a virtual café and send event branded mugs and coffee beans in advance. Consider assigning different beverages if you plan for multiple virtual sessions.
Play café music background to make your virtual environment come to life. Hiring musicians to play in your event at the start or middle of your networking event for a full-on open mic café vibe. Or you can have a barista teach participants how to prepare a cup of good coffee.
- Speed networking
If you have 5-10 minutes on the clock, attendees are incentivized to dive into the big questions in lightning-fast rounds. Send a post-event survey to see who is keen to chat more.
If both parties selected each other, you can share their contact information. This is a great effort to ensure personal privacy while still connecting on a personal level.
- Cocktail making class
If you are adamant about a cocktail party, try a virtual tasting of your favourite mix cocktail. Choose a simple recipe, with fewer ingredients and a full recipe to follow. Everyone can sip and discuss flavours with ease. Hire a mixologist who specializes in your spirit of choice to add an educational aspect to the experience.
How to organize a virtual networking event in Malaysia- step by step guide
Before you start planning the agenda of your virtual event or picking the best platform, make sure you know why you want to throw in an event.
Define your objectives
Define your virtual networking objectives by using SMART goals. Make sure your whole team in charge of the project understands what you want to achieve. All the answers to the questions will help you plan event content and develop a clear marketing strategy.
Create a structure
Online conversations are easy to descend into chaos. Having a good structure for the event can avoid the wastage of time and energy that comes with having to constantly refocus the group.
Think about your target audience and develop a structure that makes the most sense for both them and your event goals. Some ways to provide value and structure:
- Having a popular industry figure or thought leader- He/she can act as a guest speaker and present to the audience on a topic of interest, generating conversation. With the live chat feature, attendees can interact with one another, the event host, and the speaker.
- Host a Q&A session with an industry expert- This will get the ball rolling while allowing you to maintain some control over the interaction.
- Create separate virtual meeting rooms, breakout rooms or networking lounges– You give attendees control over how they choose to interact with other attendees.
Plan the audience size (and segment if required)
Invite the right people and the right number of people. It is recommended to limit yourself to eight guests (including you).
Virtual networking events will fail if too many people are involved.
This can ensure participants have enough time to speak and interact. Feel free to mix close friends and contacts you would like to cultivate. Additionally, do not forget to ensure that there is a sufficient mix of people who don’t know each other.
Schedule your event
You need to take into account how many people will be able to attend, whether or not they are in different time zones and how much time is needed for a Q&A session.
The best is to schedule your virtual networking event for 60 to 90 minutes. Remember to create a comfortable situation where meaningful conversation can happen without being rushed.
Clark and Cohen have held many networking events from 6.00-7.30pm ET, where they could include people from around the world- some having a cocktail while others are having coffee.
Create valuable content
Content is King!
Creating valuable content is one of the core pillars of a strong inbound marketing strategy, attracting participants to join your virtual networking event.
Provide participants with a clear guideline and good keywords to generate leads to your event landing page, social media and others.
Choose a virtual networking platform
There are plenty of platforms that offer different features, from co-hosting with another organization or company to advanced moderation tools.
Below are some tools that should be included:
- Live Chat: A platform that allows attendees to chat back and forth via text and video. This is the minimum requirement.
- Enables Breakout Sessions: If you have a large group, you can segment it into smaller groups with their specific interest or topics they like.
- Integrates with Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are great tools for networking too. People can connect at the moment and remain connected well after the event.
- Virtual Lobby: People often meet in shared spaces. A virtual lobby can provide a place for fellow attendees to meet up before the event begins.
Plan others logistics
Plan logistics that are easy and comfortable for your attendees. Once the participants agree to join your virtual networking event, send them a calendar invite with a link to the platform or landing page.
The key is that the procedure should be easy for people to attend the event even if they are not tech-savvy or don’t regularly use that service. Make sure to alert them if they need to download any software in advance or if the event requires a password.
Virtual event marketing
Since a virtual networking event is a kind of event with a limited size, the invite list can be smaller and more targeted.
Create a list based on industry, interest and other firmographic features, as they relate to the topic at hand. Focus on strong email marketing campaigns and build a great event website with a compelling offer.
If you are looking to reach a new group and generate leads rather than nurture existing leads, consider social media promotion and digital ads.
Host the event
Most networking events start with an introduction section.
This is really a great way to host your event and let people get to know each other.
As a host, it’s up to you to facilitate this process and make it as welcoming as possible. Make this icebreaker moment easier by having fun questions or prompts for your event guests.
Virtual networking events can feel casual and relaxing, but remember not everyone is as polite online as they are offline.
Make sure you have enough moderators on hand during your virtual event in case things get out of control. The best virtual networking event hosts know this isn’t easy – you should be an active host, moderator and participant. Be fully present throughout the event and help move the conversation along.
Ask thoughtful questions that help everyone learn. Act as moderator when conversations get challenging. Remind people of the amount of time remaining, and bring back everyone together before the event ends to round up what’s happened and get people excited about a future gathering.
Include an event facilitator for greeting and management
Few days before your call, send out an email introducing your guests to each other. You should include names, a one-sentence description, and a link to their LinkedIn profile.
It’s helpful for attendees, especially introverts, to know who will be there and humanizes the participants. Besides, you should also share the guidelines and the agenda of the day.
Keep an introductory session
Right after introductions, ask each participant a specific question to get everyone more comfortable with this kind of networking to prevent any one person from dominating the meeting.
Engage your audience with virtual conversations
Engaging your audience with virtual conversation is important. Clark and Cohn have suggested some questions as below:
- a) How are you using your time differently and fruitfully now?
- b) How have you adapted to working and living while social distancing?
- c) What do you enjoy most about your job right now?
Encourage them to have a conversation that is related to the event theme. Be ready to steer the conversation back to the main question if it gets too far off track or everyone has not had a chance to share.
End it on the right note
The virtual party’s over, but your role doesn’t end there. Your event attendees had a great time talking with each other, building relationships and learning something new. They have made beautiful connections, so it’s time to follow up with a thoughtful thank you email.
Express your gratitude for their attendance and tell them you hope they had a great experience.
Share links to any resources you mentioned during the event. Sending out a branded swag bag to let them experience the services or goods that had been mentioned during the event. They will appreciate it plus it helps to brand your organisation. Don’t forget to promote and update your upcoming virtual events.
For a virtual networking event to be successful, virtual event planners have to find creative ways to make them as engaging, interesting, and fruitful as possible.
Virtual networking event ideas
To help that, there are 8 proven networking event ideas that have successfully brought together attendees and facilitated purposeful conversations.
- Speed Networking Events
- Interactive Games & Icebreakers
- Virtual Networking Events
- Targeted Connections
- Coffee or Cocktail Mixers – With a Twist
- Smart Badges To Better Match Attendees
- Gamification to Engage Attention
By following the suggestions laid out above, you can meet your networking needs without having to sacrifice value and productivity.
When you are ready to get started, reach out to DOREMi-Virtual Event Made Easy and allow us to support your networking objectives!