Say good-bye to face-to-face networking events, virtual networking is now the new norm. While this may seem like a fairly new phenomenon, virtual networking has been around for many years. However, it wasn't until recently that the idea really gained traction and became a valid alternative for traditional networking events.

In a previous blog article, I discussed several ways to decrease your stress and increase your effectiveness at networking events. In this week's blog, I will be discussing several benefits of virtual networking events and things to consider when hosting your next event.

Some of the benefits of virtual networking events include:

Expanding your network:

In traditional face-to-face networking events, your audience was often limited to local individuals who lived within a 30-minute radius of your event. With virtual networking, you are able to expand your reach to include like-minded individuals throughout the world. In addition, you are often able to include speakers or thought leaders in your field who may otherwise not have been able to be in attendance. Expanding your guest list also adds perceived value and benefit to your attendees. It allows them to expand their connections beyond their typical circle of influence.

Reduced Expenses:

Another benefit of hosting a virtual networking event is a significant decrease in your overall expenses. One of the largest savings will probably be related to your venue and food costs. With a virtual event, these costs can be cut significantly or potentially eliminated from your budget. This will allow you to decrease your ticket price (if any) to attend and may potentially increase the amount you net from your event. In addition, hosting a virtual event often requires less logistical support to be successful.

Human connection:

Humans are hard-wired with the desire to interact and connect with others. An indirect consequence of COVID-19 is a decrease of human interaction and physical contact. While virtual networking events can't replace the importance of physical contact, it can provide emotional connections with others. One of the benefits of virtual networking events is being able to interact with others in meaningful ways that may include discussing topics outside of your typical work interactions.

Here are a few things to consider when hosting a virtual networking event:

Engaging your audience:

A key to successful virtual networking events is focusing on your attendee's experience. How do you help ensure that your attendees feel connected and engaged at your event? How do you help them to find value? Remember that awkward moment when you would go to a networking event and not know who to talk to? Make sure your virtual event is not awkward. Make it as easy as possible for your guests to feel included. Much like traditional face-to-face events, the key is finding several ways for attendees to interact with each other. This may involve including a previously prepared ice-breaker. Other ideas include small group discussions, utilizing video chat, or even doing brief surveys throughout the event.

The idea is to help your guests open up and feel comfortable as quickly as possible.

Be prepared; don't over plan:

The best virtual networking events I have attended have a theme and an outline for the evening. At the same time, the facilitator is flexible enough to adapt the program based on the direction the networking event goes. I would encourage you to not over-complicate your timeline by planning every minute of your event. Rather, consider blocking out chunks of time for specific activities. This will help keep your event on track and allow you the flexibility to adapt as needed based on the feedback of your guests.

Wrap it up; follow up:

No matter how fantastic your virtual networking event is, make sure to start and end on-time. The way your guests feel before they leave is often how they will remember your event. Consider what you can say or do to leave a memorable impression on your guests. I attended a networking event hosted by AFP recently where they gave out prizes at the end. This provided a reason for people to stay till the end (you must be present to win) and left guests feeling motivated and excited as they logged off. It was a great way to end a fantastic evening of virtual networking.

Once your event is complete, make sure to follow-up with everyone in attendance. This can be done by thanking them for attending, reminding them of the experience they had, and sharing with them ways they can continue to be involved with your organization.

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