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Encouraging Networking and Connections Among Virtual Event Participants

Introduction

One of the most valuable aspects of in-person conferences and workshops is the organic relationship building and networking that occurs between attendees. But replicating those social interactions in a virtual setting can be challenging.

As a virtual event organizer, you need thoughtful strategies to spark meaningful connections and conversations that allow attendees to build community and expand their networks – even from behind their screens.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore proven techniques for:

Designing purposeful networking experiences

You need dedicated spaces and times for attendees to connect. We’ll look at formats that facilitate engagement.

Making introductions seamlessly

Introducing attendees effectively is key. We’ll review tools and tactics to help make connections.

Sparking meaningful conversations

Discussion prompts, icebreakers, and activities get conversations started. We’ll examine options.

Building small group interactions

Breakouts let smaller groups bond. We’ll look at facilitating impactful breakout sessions.

Creating shared experiences

Shared experiences bring people together. We’ll discuss weaving in engaging activities.

Tracking interactions and feedback

Understanding engagement helps refine approaches. We’ll talk about monitoring tactics.

Let’s explore how you can bring the power of human connection to your next virtual event!

Design Purposeful Networking Experiences

For organic relationship building to occur, you need to carve out dedicated spaces in the event agenda for attendees to interact. Consider these purposeful networking formats:

Matchmaking Sessions

Host speed networking sessions where attendees quickly interact 1:1 with each other in timed intervals before rotating to new partners. Fast-paced way to make connections.

Topic Tables

Create video chat tables around shared interests and goals so attendees can freely join tables relevant to them for casual group conversations.

Virtual Lobby Spaces

Maintain an open video chat room or “lobby” for attendees to freely come and go from to mimic casual networking. Appoint community managers to greet newcomers.

Expo Halls

In a virtual expo hall, attendees can visit individual video chat “booths” manned by event speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors to interact 1:1.

Happy Hours

Host a casual virtual happy hour event after sessions end where attendees can socialize freely together over video while enjoying their beverages of choice!

Schedule dedicated spaces regularly to give attendees permission to focus purely on connecting with others vs. passively sitting through sessions.

Make Introductions Seamlessly

Smoothly introducing attendees during sessions and networking activities encourages engagement. Tactics include:

Collect Relevant Attendee Data

Gather key information like interests, goals, location, and conversation starters attendees are comfortable sharing so you can facilitate relevant introductions.

Show Bios and Faces

Display attendee names, profile pictures, bios, and conversation prompts on-screen during activities so they can see who they are interacting with.

Highlight Common Interests

When introducing discussion partners, note mutual interests, goals, and conversation starters they have in common right away to kickstart dialogue.

Offer Icebreakers and Prompts

Provide sample icebreaker questions and conversation starters attendees can draw from if they need help connecting organically.

Use Digital Matchmaking

Apps like Brella and Swapcard use attendee preference data to automatically suggest tailored networking matches.

Appoint Connectors

Train staff members or volunteer “connectors” to actively facilitate introductions, drive discussions, and get shy attendees involved.

Smooth introductions right away break the ice so attendees feel comfortable engaging.

Spark Meaningful Conversations

Once you’ve made introductions, you need compelling prompts and activities to spark meaningful dialogue. Ideas include:

Share Inspiring Stories

Kick off conversations by having an attendee share an inspiring founder story, success story, or personal journey to emotionally engage the group quickly.

Pose Thoughtful Questions

Facilitate initial discussions around a thoughtful personal or philosophical question like, “What makes you happy outside of work?” Light topics foster vulnerability.

Use Quick Polls

Take live polls asking attendees interesting questions and encourage them to discuss the results in small groups. Creates instant shared experiences.

Host Debates

Friendly debates around fun topics like “Are pancakes better than waffles?” get energy high while breaking the ice.

Discuss Event Content

Suggest groups discuss a previous session or learning. Shared knowledge builds common ground.

Play Games Virtually

Trivia, scavenger hunts, show and tell, and other light games both energize groups while helping them open up.

Share Gratitude

Have attendees share something they are grateful for or compliment another participant. Positivity and appreciation flows into conversations.

Leverage thoughtful prompts, quick activities, and emotional stories to get authentic, meaningful conversations started easily.

Build Small Group Interactions

Small group breakout sessions allow for more intimate conversations and connections to form versus full group discussions. Best practices include:

Keep Groups Under 10 People

Limit breakout groups to 6-8 participants. Large enough for diverse perspectives but small enough for sharing.

Mix Up Groups

Avoid having the same people repeatedly paired together. Shuffle groups between activities to expand connections.

Give Clear Instructions

Provide clear objectives, time limits, discussion prompts, and rules of engagement for breakout groups so participants can quickly dive into substantive interactions.

Monitor and Assist Groups

Appoint hosts to monitor and participate in each breakout room to keep conversations on-track, assist with tech issues, and encourage quieter attendees to engage.

Visit Rooms as a Speaker

Have event speakers rotate between breakout rooms to offer Q&A and facilitate discussions relevant to their topics. Boosts value.

Summarize Learnings

Have groups assign members to take notes and report back key takeaways. Reinforces shared purpose.

Spotlight Standouts

With permission, record or screenshot great examples of breakout room interactions to spotlight for the full group afterwards. Positive reinforcement.

Small groups amplify relationship building when properly structured, monitored, and supplemented with speaker visits.

Create Shared Experiences

Immersive activities that transcend basic chatter are powerful for facilitating meaningful connections and memories. Consider:

Co-Creation Projects

Guide small groups through collaboratively brainstorming solutions to a problem or co-creating art, stories, or other projects. Shared creation bonds.

Friend Making Activities

Facilitate quick creative activities where attendees make crafts, drawings, or poems to virtually exchange with another participant afterwards. Making something for a new connection feels special.

Wellness Experiences

Lead groups through virtual yoga, meditation, dance parties, singalongs, or other wellness experiences together. Healthy vulnerability.

Show and Tell

Have attendees briefly present on a hobby, talent, collection, or interest of theirs on video to share their passion. Expressing individuality connects.

Virtual Field Trips

Livestream tours of unique locations and have a guide point out details while attendees chat reactively in real time. Provides a visceral shared experience.

Cooking and Cocktail Workshops

Host cooking or cocktail workshop sessions attendees can participate in from home while chatting. Fun sense of creating something together.

Multiplayer Games

Incorporate collaborative multiplayer games groups compete or work together in like Kahoot, Jackbox.tv, or Gather.town to drive playful interactions.

Immersive experiences where attendees actively create, share, and emote together accelerate relationship building exponentially.

Track Interactions and Feedback

Understanding networking behaviors, gauging engagement levels, and gathering input helps refine your approach. Useful tactics include:

Monitor Chat and Discussion

Stay present in networking sessions to observe how attendees interact. Note trends, challenges, and highlights.

Log Introduction Details

Track stats like number of attendees introduced, common conversation starters used, and tech issues to identify areas for improvement.

Send Post-Event Surveys

Ask attendees to evaluate networking experiences, level of connections made, and suggested improvements to inform future events.

Analyze Data Insights

Platform data like message volume, session attendance, and 1:1 connections provide quantitative engagement insights to optimize.

Assign User Testing Groups

Recruit a smaller subset of attendees to test new networking features pre-event and provide feedback.

Watch Recordings with Attendees

Review breakout room or small group session recordings together to celebrate successes while gathering improvement ideas.

Solicit Real-Time Feedback

Check in with attendees during the actual event to address any immediate networking issues impacting engagement and satisfaction.

Ongoing observation, data analysis, and attendee feedback help you consistently refine networking moments that resonate at your virtual events.

Conclusion

While organic relationship building may seem daunting in virtual events, intentional networking experiences make social connections completely achievable – and invaluable.

By crafting dedicated spaces for attendees to engage, seamlessly facilitating introductions, sparking meaningful conversations, encouraging small group interactions, creating shared experiences, and monitoring data, you can replicate the human moments that make in-person events so special.

Attendees may arrive as strangers, but leave as colleagues, friends, and partners in your digital community when social engagements are prioritized.

So serve up some randomness, fun, and vulnerability at your next virtual event to spark the kinds of serendipitous yet substantive interactions that turn contacts into connections. The value is immense.

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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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