One survey of over 400 event marketers found that two-thirds of respondents feel networking is one of the biggest problems presented by virtual events. This is unfortunate because the opportunity to network is highly sought after by professionals; if you’re looking to attract and retain the best talent, you need to provide people the opportunity to network effectively.
Virtual events of any kind can quickly become stale. Here we’ll discuss 7 interesting virtual networking ideas to help you throw the best online events possible.
First, Some Virtual Networking Stats
Not sold on the idea of virtual networking? Here are some stats that may change your mind:
- As of 2021, more than 60% of people still plan to rely on virtual communication.
- 72% of people plan to attend the same number – or more – of online events as they are now, even once in-person ones return.
- Statista survey respondents stated in 2021 that 40% of the events they plan to attend the following year would be virtual.
- Since 2020, virtual events are up in popularity by 35%.
- 93% of professional event planners intend to invest in virtual events moving forward.
Even as the pandemic wanes and in-person events return, companies shouldn’t neglect virtual networking. That said, many virtual networking events rely on the same ideas and can quickly become uninteresting. If you want to host events that stand out, read on for some inspiration.
Idea 1: Pre-Event Photo Share
While this isn’t part of the online networking event, pre-event activities are an excellent way to break the ice. Giving participants the chance to form connections before the virtual networking begins means the event itself will be more comfortable and impactful.
One idea for this is a pre-event photo share where attendees show participants a photo of their choosing. They can talk about what’s in the photo and how it’s relevant to their life. Some images could include vacations, time spent with friends, participating in a sport, or anything in between.
These pre-events can be more casual or business-focused.
Idea 2: Interactive Mixology Class
Novel virtual networking ideas such as mixology classes help freshen up online events and encourage participant interaction. Interactive mixology classes are essential, as this format keeps participants engaged and gives them something to talk about afterward.
Virtual With Us is one company that offers this style of class. Typically, participants pick out their cocktail beforehand and are sent a kit with whatever they’ll need for the class. Examples of cocktails include “French 75’s & Fashion” or “Margaritas & Marketing Trends.” The themes of these cocktails encourage participants to connect with one another and spark dialogue.
Idea 3: Virtual Scavenger Hunt
This is one of those virtual networking ideas that encourages employees to foster connections amongst themselves that will endure after the event.
Hosts give attendees a theme – such as travel – and split them into small teams. Each team gets a list of objects to retrieve from their homes. These items need to be specific, but not too much so. Examples include “foreign currency” or “funny t-shirt” to encourage creative thinking.
Attendees then come together and share their items at the end, giving everyone a chance to find similarities amongst themselves. These similarities (or differences) serve as talking points and allow people to pick up conversations after the virtual networking event is over.
Idea 4: Special Themes
The best virtual networking events help participants relate to one another. While many networking events are centered around a particular industry or sector, consider theming your event a bit differently.
Your online networking event can remain business-focused, but throw in another central consideration. You can theme the event around hobbies or interests, including gaming, foodies, outdoor sports lovers, and more.
Theming a professional event around a personal hobby allows for deeper personal connections, which translate well into business ones.
Idea 5: VIP Guest
Many virtual networking ideas involve considerable participant interaction. While that – when done correctly – is an excellent way for people to network effectively, consider adding a twist.
You can invite a VIP speaker to your online networking session and create a hybrid event. Participants can network with each other but also with an industry expert. They can be given the chance to dive deep into this person’s career, ask questions, and learn. Participants may even want to ask questions to their peers and get the speaker’s input.
Idea 6: Professional Skills Classes
Some of the best virtual networking ideas enhance both a participant’s network and professional value. Shared learning activities such as skills classes offer two benefits: first, they allow participants to better themselves professionally (or personally), and second, they give attendees a central theme to bond over.
Although skills classes can be more casual (like the mixology class mentioned earlier), consider making them professionally focused. This can include seminars on improving soft skills such as leadership or communication.
Idea 7: Roundtables
This virtual networking idea can be baked into another. Roundtables involve dividing attendees into groups of 4-5 across breakout rooms. Participants rotate through these rooms and get a chance to talk with a large swath of participants in a smaller setting.
There’s a balance to the roundtable format, however. Creating breakout rooms with too many people or rotating through rooms too quickly won’t give attendees enough time to network effectively. Keep groups to fewer than 5 participants and provide ample time (at least 15-20 minutes) for people to form connections depending on how long the event is.
In many ways, online networking remains the new normal. Using these virtual networking ideas, you can better engage your employees and help them network effectively. Considering how highly employees value networking, this isn’t something you want to overlook.
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