How can networking be made to work at online events?

Networking typically happens at real, in-person events. But it’s also possible to do it online; it just works a little differently. There are various options available to organisers.

Photo: Bettina Knauer

Expert:

Bettina Knauer
Content Marketing & PR Manager
Xing Events

Who do you want networking with whom?
Think in advance about who you want to network with whom. What is the aim of your online event? As the organiser, do you want to generate leads for your exhibitors and sponsors? If so, it’s important to enable your participants to network with the exhibitors. Do you want participants to be able to get to know each other or nurture their contacts? If so, you need to facilitate networking between them. You could also focus on getting participants to network with specific speakers or artists. Let’s assume you want to generate leads for your exhibitors. In that case, you need tools that facilitate communication with these exhibitors: text or video chats, for example. Choose tools that make it easy for your participants to contact the exhibitors. Solutions that enable one-to-one conversations based on the calendars of those involved are particularly suitable. If one of the two people is currently in another video session or offline, a calendar-based tool indicates he or she is not available. Do you want your participants to network with each other? Then you have to connect them up with each other in a group. You can do that through interests-based matchmaking or in breakout rooms, for example. When people have interests in common, one of these tools will send them into the same video room at a particular time. You use breakout rooms to allow speakers to network with a small group of participants after delivering an online talk. With their cameras and microphones switched on in a smaller virtual room, everyone participating can both see and hear everyone else – and network with them.

Exhibitors, attendees and speakers can come together digitally thanks to ideas, measures and tools. (Photo: getty / Xing Events)
Exhibitors, attendees and speakers can come together digitally thanks to ideas, measures and tools. (Photo: getty / Xing Events)

How to enable people to network with each other
You can bring exhibitors, sponsors and speakers together with the help of the following ideas, steps and tools:

  • Questions during the live stream
    Encourage the participants to ask their questions or make comments live during the stream using the chat function. Try questions such as “Who here is from <region XY>?” to get the networking started with some small talk.
  • One-to-one text chatting
    Enable your participants to have a one-to-one chat with you or each other.
  • Text chatting for groups
    Participants who don’t know other participants find it much easier to join in with groups if they have already been discussing the same things with each other.
  • Attractive accompanying programmes
    Whether you decide to offer exercise breaks, real gift boxes, photo challenges, joint cocktail mixing, jingle singing or one of the many other possible options, shared activities like these allow the participants to experience something as a group. While they are engaged in them, they can interact either based on being able to see and hear each other or by using social media. If you come up with a hashtag and promote it well, the participants will be able to find each other online almost automatically.
  • Setting up networking areas
    Make networking an integral part of your event, and set aside times for it in your event’s agenda – or in your trade fair plan if you are organising a virtual trade fair. Explain in advance which tools are going to be used for the coffee or networking breaks and how to use them.

Technical prerequisites
It’s already very easy to implement networking at online events through text chatting. This feature is often already provided by your video conference tool or in your event platform. If the IT solution you’ve chosen doesn’t offer it, you can add free live chat tools to your platform with just a few clicks. The same applies to video chats. Let your participants know in good time what kind of networking they can expect. Some of them will want to tidy up or groom themselves in preparation for the camera or familiarise themselves with the chat tool.

Networking before and after online events
Up to now, we have been focusing on networking during an online event. To conclude, we would like to leave you with a few tips for networking before and after online events. As with in-person events, you can enable the participants to network before and after the event, for example by enabling open guest lists on your Xing event page or inviting participants to join communities and groups for the event. Alternatively, you can offer and encourage networking in special event apps. When it comes to networking in connection with online events, it’s possible to find a suitable IT solution for most requirements.

This article was published in TFI issue 3-4/2020

 
 

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