Amidst the unprecedented pandemic of 2020, business owners, BIAs, students, and working professionals like everyone else have lost their ability to host events where individuals can connect and network in-person. This dilemma has been resolved with an effective solution- virtual networking events!
Although online networking events are not the same as networking in-person, here are a few ways to exemplify your online networking event for your small business.
Hosting an event online is no walk in the park. Before planning a business networking event, it is critical that you understand your goals and objectives. Is it to bring co-workers together? Connect with industry professionals? Meet potential clients? or simply B2B networking? Understanding your objective makes designing and hosting the event a lot more easier as you can plan out the format and promotion accordingly to the audience.
Since the networking event is online, always make sure you invite the right mix of people. Before sending out your invitations to everyone on the list of attendees, make sure they fit your objective and are your target participants. Identify the size of your virtual networking event. Is it a VIP session with a select few prospects or a much larger session. It is always a good idea to keep the event small, with around 10-20 participants.
This is simply because as the host, we must ensure that each attendee gets enough time to interact with everyone. The guest list must include the perfect blend of people who do not know each other so that no attendee feels isolated and out of place.
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How long should I schedule a virtual networking event for? Well, usually online events are scheduled for 60 – 90 minutes. This is considered the most ideal length because, if an event exceeds 90 minutes, people will not be motivated to attend and vice versa for an event that is less than 60 minutes, because networking events can not be rushed.
Make sure that you schedule time for bio-breaks if the event runs over an hour!
Prior to the event, it is absolutely imperative to plan out the structure and the format. You must select a virtual meeting platform that is accessible to all the participants like Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. Ensure that all participants are alerted to download the particular software preceding the event and if the event is password protected.
Sending an email with the list of participants’ names, a brief description, and their LinkedIn profiles, can go a long way for attendees. This not only helps participants to connect with each other but also sparks confidences and assists in the smooth flow of the event.
Example: “It is our pleasure to have all of you attending our *virtual networking event name*. Our online doors open at 6 p.m. and we will have the opportunity to connect and communicate for 60 minutes. Here are some details of your fellow participants attending this event. Hope to see you soon!”
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Online events usually lack a personal touch. It is always a good idea to open the session 5 – 10 minutes before the scheduled time, to greet the early participants. Another commonly adopted practice is to always greet and receive the attendees at the door.
Once the session starts, ask if any participants must leave early, just so they can introduce themselves before the others. As the host, lay the first stones by introducing yourself with a mix of both personal and professional details. Details like what industries/profiles they want to network with, what their objective is from participating in the event etc sets the bar for other guests to follow. A good format for a small group is 30 secs on who you are, what do you bring to the table and what are you looking for – TrustD.space makes this easy with an option to connect online based on your needs and interests.
Unlike in-person networking events, conversation building in a virtual networking event is a completely different ball game. After the introductory part of the event, you can ask each participant questions just to develop a more meaningful conversation. Asking interesting questions can trigger a more collaborative back and forth conversation. The host must make sure that no single participant dominates the conversation and prevent the conversation from going astray from the main topic.
You can pose questions about current trends like “What impacts did COVID-19 have on your industry?”, “Do you enjoy working from home? How have you adapted to it? & “Have there been any positive impacts because of the pandemic?” etc.
Always cap your event at a maximum time limit of 90 minutes because virtual meeting fatigue is a real thing! Conclude the session with any left-out bit of information, offering them a chance to connect with others and provide any complementary benefit adding value to their experience.
It is important to follow up with a quick note for everyone who attended the meeting and thanking them for their time to attend the event. Asking each participant for feedback and if their experience was, will help improve future sessions. And make sure that you have a post-event platform like TrustD.space to connect your guests after your awesome networking event.