Just because we can’t as easily meet in person anymore doesn’t mean business relationships should languish. By this point, we’ve all had awkward Zoom “get to know other attendees” happy hours, where people seem to not know when to talk. Striking up conversations with others over a flat videoconferencing experience can be… exhausting.
Picture this instead: An engaging networking dinner where there are a couple key speakers at an intimate location, breakout opportunities, and a clear follow up for attendees after the fact. Harvard Business review even wrote about four key logistics to focus on in an article. Obviously, hosting a dinner in-person poses more challenges now...
But minus physically eating alongside others attending, why should the rest of this be impossible to recreate? Here’s the good news: It’s not. It’s 2021, and it’s absolutely possible to have a more human experience while making new networking connections with others in your industry or business.
So what does it take to host an effective virtual networking event? Let’s jump right in.
Hosting a Successful Virtual Networking Event
Of course, there are many smaller items that go into logistical planning of coordinating a virtual networking event. Harvard Business Review also compiled research for an online version of the in-person networking dinner, highlighting that prior to the event, be sure to: “Invite the right people. Feel free to mix close friends and contacts you’d like to cultivate, but remember to make sure there is a sufficient mix of people who don’t know each other, so that no one feels like the ‘odd man out’ who has been randomly added to a reunion of old pals. In addition, one of the benefits of the virtual format is that you can include people from all over the world, which of course isn’t possible with physical gatherings.”
These are excellent points, but let’s zoom out even further when we’re considering how to host an effective virtual networking event. Current approaches to many virtual events are inherently flawed, and need to be addressed first.
1. Select an Event “Location”
What platform do you want to host your virtual networking event on? This will become important later when facilitating one of the most crucial parts of the event: Help attendees make meaningful connections while there.
Check out this article about virtual events platforms that have hosted amazing networking events.
For a quick explanation of why this matters so much, consider SpatialWeb. They hosted the virtual networking event that followed the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2021 — that usually happens in Las Vegas — and it was a gigantic success.
“One of the greatest challenges we face in the world of virtual events and conferences is the power of networking – the rush that you get when bumping into a colleague or friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. Or having an intellectual joust about a current industry,” noted David Cohen, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau that was tasked with staging a virtual CES.
How did the event organizers recreate a simulation of Vegas, then, of all places? “The conference organizers knew that they couldn’t simply host a giant Zoom call. This wouldn’t recreate the serendipitous networking mood in the slightest.” So instead, MediaLink and iHeartMedia turned to SpatialWeb, an immersive platform with spatial audio implemented. The importance of this can’t be overstated — for recreating an environment that facilitates natural conversation, immersive audio is necessary.
(Why is that? It’s something called the ‘Cocktail Party Effect’, and you can read all about it here.)
Conversations that flow naturally are an integral part of the human experience.
2. Secure Event Speakers
As Cvent describes accurately, “Without having to foot the bill for travel, accommodation and expenses, online event planners are now able to spend more on professional speakers or secure industry experts from anywhere in the world. Possible event speakers who would normally be booked up, or who live too far away, now have greater flexibility to present remotely.”
How does this help? Having great event speakers helps increase your event’s appeal as well as increased opportunities for reach and engagement.
For tips on prepping your event speakers, Bizzabo has created a great guide here.
2. Facilitate Breakout Opportunities
This is where the magic happens, and a huge reason why SpatialWeb was able to create such a great event. With such an immersive environment that replicates real life where people are naturally conversing with each other, these opportunities were ample. People were able to really get to know each other.
“The most effective breakout sessions — whether they’re focused on casual networking, topic-focused education, or accomplishing a designated task — don’t happen by accident,” writes BizBash in this helpful guide for hosting effective breakout sessions. Hosting fun breakout opportunities can really help to keep your attendees engaged, too. (And we all know attendee attention spans are short and only get shorter as events get longer.)
Don’t forget: It’s all about human connection at the end of the day.
There are a ton of great proximity chat platforms, too, that can facilitate areas for breakout opportunities. What is a proximity chat platform? Here’s a helpful guide explaining all about them. “You can ‘walk’ around virtual spaces, and move fluidly between groups. As you get farther from someone in the map-based online space, their voice gets quieter. And in some of the platforms, audio is properly spatialized, meaning it more accurately mimics a real-life gathering.”
Which brings us to our next point...
4. Invest in Spatial Audio
This is the big one, and what many virtual networking events get wrong. An experience at a virtual event with spatial audio is so much different than one without.
What IS spatial audio? (Perhaps you’ve heard Apple’s announcements about it recently…)
“Popularized by the rise of virtual reality, spatial audio is the technique whereby sounds are processed to make them appear to come from their real location in space,” said High Fidelity Co-founder and CEO, Philip Rosedale, in What is Spatial Audio?
Check out this video with headphones on to hear the difference.
So how does spatial audio help? Simply put, since the sound source is coming from a defined location in space, each sound is clearer and easier for the listener to understand. Here’s a longer detailed post all about spatial audio technology, with numerous example applications. Or to understand more about what sort of experiences it produces, check out 3 Major Benefits of Spatial Audio.
Fortunately, audio spatialization is much easier to add now with High Fidelity’s Spatial Audio API.
5. Organize and Share Event Recordings
Finally, don’t forget to follow up with your attendees afterward and share event recordings. As Cvent says, “After the event, post-event follow-up needs to happen more quickly. Data is critical and follow-up has to be fast and on-point.”
Sharing the event recordings will allow people to better reflect on what they’ve learned from your networking session, as well as provide you with valuable feedback. Here’s a link to some sample emails you can send that go beyond “Thank you for coming,” and personalize the follow-up experience to people based on their attendance of your virtual networking event.
Enjoy getting the most out of your virtual networking events!