Event Networking: 5 Hacks To Keep Virtual Attendees Engaged
Why do people attend events? One of the biggest reasons is to network — whether meeting with like-minded folks, creating connections in pursuit of a new job opportunity, or picking the brains of industry leaders.
In fact, 80% of professionals say that networking plays a critical role in long-term career success. However, although most event organizers have mastered the art of creating successful in-person networking opportunities, virtual and hybrid events present new challenges.
Keep reading to learn more about the importance of event networking, challenges in virtual environments, and what you can do to ensure your next event is packed full of great networking opportunities — whether your audience is in-person, virtual, or hybrid.
The Benefits of Networking at Events
- Getting exposed to new ideas and opinions
- Meeting potential business partners
- Gaining insight into competitor activities
- Boosting confidence and breaking outside of their comfort zones
- Acquiring career advice and guidance
- Finding new employees or advisers
- Making new friends and gaining valuable life experience
- Learning about industry trends
Although the benefits of event networking speak for themselves, networking isn’t without its challenges — particularly for virtual attendees.
Networking Challenges for Virtual Attendees
Despite the benefits of virtual events — lower carbon footprint, better accessibility, increased sustainability, and extended attendee reach — virtual events come with plenty of challenges. More than two-thirds of event marketers agree that it’s more challenging to provide networking opportunities during virtual events, according to Bizzabo research, and networking is the top challenge organizations face when putting on virtual events.
What’s more, 71% of event decision makers say that it’s challenging to make virtual events accurately mimic the IRL experience, according to BlueJeans and Forrester, with 67% feeling it’s difficult to articulate a brand narrative through virtual events.
Offering meaningful and impactful networking opportunities is even more challenging at hybrid events because many attendees are in the same physical space while the rest are spread out around the world.
As you begin to think about keeping virtual attendees engaged during networking opportunities, be sure to consider the following:
- Differences in time zones/locations
- Technical learning curves
- Accessibility and inclusion challenges
- Equitable experiences for virtual and in-person attendees
- Limited social cues and distractions
- No-shows and scheduling challenges
Don’t forget: You don’t find time for networking; you make time for networking. With the right planning and software, you can overcome these challenges to deliver networking experiences that keep attendees engaged — no matter where they are.
Networking Hacks To Keep Attendees Engaged at Virtual Events
According to Bizzabo research, 67.7% of event marketers find it more difficult to keep attendees engaged during virtual event sessions. Additionally, 63% of respondents believe tools to engage virtual attendees will play a key role in future event strategies. Here are some tips:
1. Encourage 1:1 Conversations
Leading event management solutions empower attendees to easily search and find attendees with similar interests before, during, and after the event. It’s essential to meet attendees where they are, so providing easy messaging solutions is critical. After all, in 2020, people in the United States sent 2.2 trillion messages!
Encourage participants to do what they do best and send other attendees 1:1 messages about upcoming sessions they’re excited about or thought-provoking content that resonated with them.
2. Fuel Spontaneous Connections
Remember the excitement of bumping into someone at an in-person event? Hallway conversations and post-session conversations are, for many, the best part of attending in-person events. Although many event organizers think these types of interactions are impossible to replicate, the truth is that — with the right software — you can deliver meaningful networking opportunities.
For example, once attendees have started a 1:1 chat, why not allow them to begin a real-time video meeting to make the conversation more dynamic? Remember: The more connections an attendee makes at an event, the more valuable they’ll view the event experience as a whole.
3. Create Time for Networking
We’ve all been there: You run into someone at an event on your way to a session and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find a time in both of your schedules to sit and meet. It’s frustrating, and often, you end up never even getting together.
The benefit of virtual events is that there is more flexibility in networking. Consider using event software that lets attendees set their availability and request, accept, and manage their networking meetings in one central location. Additionally, include a mix of networking sessions, such as mid-session breakouts, coffee chats, speed networking, or un-networking events that champion health and wellness opportunities.
4. Curate VIP Experiences
When you’re hosting a virtual event, it’s important to think about how you can use technology to create truly unforgettable, next-tier experiences. In fact, 90% of event marketers believe providing a personalized attendee experience is essential. For example, with the right event technology, event organizers can create personalized experiences such as dedicated spaces for VIPs.
“Event organizers can create spaces specifically for VIPs,” explains Alon Alroy, Bizzabo co-founder and CMO while speaking with EventMB. “For example, they could create virtual VIP lounges that include entertainment, NFT swag, and fun activities. These environments can encourage exclusivity like networking sessions with executives.”
5. Leverage AI-Driven Recommendations
Break down barriers and reduce the time and effort it takes for attendees to make the right connections at your event with AI-driven recommendations. The right event software is intelligent and can help attendees find and filter attendees based on shared interests, job titles, and other interests. This approach lets participants spend less time searching and more time on community building.
How To Keep Virtual Attendees Engaged with In-Person Attendees at Hybrid Events
One of the biggest challenges with hybrid events is that in-person and virtual attendees experience the event in unique ways. Although hybrid events promise to create an equitable, comparable experience for all attendees, hybrid events are still figuring out how to deliver on that promise.
In fact, according to Bizzabo research, 46% of organizers found networking to be a challenging aspect of organizing hybrid events. Here are a few ideas:
- Increase matchmaking services between in-person and virtual attendees (e.g., leverage software to encourage audience interactivity)
- Educate your attendees on hybrid networking best practices
- Create spaces catered to hybrid networking meetings (e.g., booths where in-person attendees can go to meet with virtual attendees)
- Leave time between meetings so people can get from onsite to virtual place and vice versa
- Keep 1:1 messaging features open long after the event is over
Lastly, collect data to see what’s working and what isn’t. The right event software will deliver real-time data to see who’s engaged, how many new connections are made, and which days and times are best for networking. This data can help you pivot in the moment to deliver more meaningful networking opportunities and plan better for future events too.
How Event Management Software Can Help
Does planning networking for your virtual attendees have you feeling stressed? You just need the right event experience software. As you begin your search for a solution for hybrid and virtual events, look for a platform that offers features like:
- Real-time messaging
- One-click live video meetings
- Spontaneous networking opportunities
- Flexible schedules
- AI-driven matchmaking
- Attendee profiles
Download our Event Software Buyer’s Guide for a step-by-step look at choosing the right event experience partner.
Deliver Networking Opportunities That Delight Attendees
According to Bizzabo data, 20% of events will be hybrid in Q3 2022 — compared to a mere 8.1% in Q4 2021. Event organizers have seen the power of hybrid events, which let participants attend how they prefer. It’s critical to look for a purpose-built event management solution that delivers meaningful networking experiences for everyone.
To learn more about the easiest way to make sure everyone at your events has the opportunity to network and build meaningful connections and communities, request a demo of Bizzabo today.