Does Virtual Networking Really Work?
It’s the question we have all been thinking. The event industry has been turned upside down, events that take months, even years to plan have been postponed or cancelled, and virtual platforms are all the rage, claiming they can be just as good as the real thing.
One of the major headscratchers about virtual event platforms is the ability to successfully host networking opportunities. How can a video call replicate the same face-to-face conversations that occur during a live event? Those conversations that are best known for sparking business opportunities, thought leadership, and career growth.
We wanted to put on our myth-busting hats and get down to the nitty-gritty of what people expect in live event networking opportunities and if they can really be fulfilled within a virtual platform.
To do that, we started off by surveying professionals of all walks of life to get their thoughts on live networking and what they hope to achieve through a virtual solution. Here’s what we asked them:
- When you attend an event, what networking opportunity do you look forward to most?
- What are the top networking must-haves during a virtual event?
- What networking opportunities do you experience at live events that you wish were at virtual events?
- How likely are you to return to an event the following year if they had good networking opportunities?
- Does having a variety of networking opportunities make attending an event more desirable?
Let’s dig into what people had to say.
When you attend an event, what networking opportunity do you look forward to most?
This one was a no brainer for most. Answers spanned from enjoying the intimate, curated networking opportunities that live events offer to (you guessed it), the bar.
The average response, however, resulted in the desire to have peer-to-peer conversations with a variety of professionals. It’s no surprise that what event attendees look forward to most at networking opportunities is talking amongst each other. What was surprising is the type of professionals that attendees were looking to have those conversations with.
- 50% wanted to meet with a wide-span of professionals. This is pretty common, especially when you want to get your business noticed, do a little selling, and even check out the competition.
- 25% wanted to meet with like-minded professionals. This trend is becoming more common, likely to save time on those long, droning conversations about topics you know nothing about. Be honest, we have all had our handful of those.
- The remaining 25% said the best conversations came from the good ol’ watering hole - the bar. Honestly, we agree! Some of the best business relationships are built over a cocktail.
What are the top networking must-haves during a virtual event?
Here is where we get into the nitty-gritty. We wanted to know what would make or break an event from a networking standpoint. Not only are virtual events hard to get your head around right now - mostly due to the most common “virtual experience” being a simple Zoom meeting that seems to never go that well.
The responses we got were very mixed, ranging from the most traditional sense of networking, to the more technical side of things. Here are the trends we were able to spot:
- “Comfortable environment, ability to hear the other person well, places to have 1-on-1 conversations, if necessary.”
- “Pencil and paper & contact info ready to give out.”
- “Solid interaction between speaker and audience; polling feature to get overall audience feedback; peer networking.”
The trends we are seeing here validate a lot of our initial thoughts. Virtual event attendees want:
- Comfort - We’re not sure how much more comfortable you can get by attending a live event from your couch. This just further pushes the point that virtual events are a lot more convenient than live ones. It cuts out the travel, time out of the office, sitting around in a suit all day - you know how it goes.
- Quality - Technical quality is an absolute must for a virtual event. If you can’t log in, have a glitchy video, things are breaking left and right, then your experience is going to feel pretty crummy. Having a flawless technical experience, however, is going to heighten the feeling of a real live event, straight from your device.
- Privacy - We all need those one-on-one meetings to talk shop, sell a thing or two, or just get to know a new business contact outside of the hustle and bustle. Having the ability to break off on your own in a virtual event, seamlessly, is something that is really important for attendees.
- Contact - The ol’ business card. Tried and true, it continues to still be a staple in the networking game. The ability to share your personal information for further conversations is incredibly important, so being able to do so easily on virtual is even more important.
- Feedback - Attendee feedback is arguably one of the most important parts of your event. It allows you to see the good or bad, the spots where you missed or could have So, give your virtual event attendees the ability to give feedback during and after your event, anonymously (if necessary), and without friction (ease of use).
All of these things are accessible and important features in a live event, so naturally they would be necessary in any successful virtual event platform.
What makes us smile, is that all of this is possible and currently exists.
What networking opportunities do you experience at live events that you wish were at virtual events?
We wanted to do everyone a favor and generate a wish list of experiences that attendees want you to include at your virtual event. We were amused to see that the majority of our answers revolved around one theme: happy hour. What can we say, it’s certainly the most anticipated part of the event and genuinely brings forward some of the best networking opportunities. Thankfully, our survey results broke down a little more than just booze to give us some examples of what attendees want to see:
- “Overhearing conversations and being able to introduce yourself.”
- “Social hours & learning events.”
- “Casual conversations.”
Not a lot of color on these answers, but a lot can be inferred. The experience of having a drink and taking a load off from a long day of eventing can bring down a lot of walls. By this, we mean that more genuine and light-hearted conversations will blossom out of this environment. The sales-pitch is lighter, the topics are more general, and the atmosphere is calmer - allowing introductions and casual conversations to flow with ease.
The question you are probably asking is - “How is this possible with virtual?” Are you just sitting on your couch with a beer and chatting with other industry professionals? If that’s your prerogative, then absolutely.
What we have seen as the most successful form of a happy hour over virtual is a “Happy Hour Breakout Room”. You can make as many or as little rooms as you want, organize them by topic, or just have an open space for small amounts of attendees to join and chat over a cocktail. Unfortunately, we don’t have a virtual bar, so you may have to find yourself something from a'la kitchen. Nonetheless, it is still an environment that promotes relaxed conversations, where you and some friendly folks can chit chat over your favorite beverage of choice. Hey, they may not even realize you are still wearing your pajama bottoms, too.
How likely are you to return to an event the following year if they had good networking opportunities?
In reality, this can apply to both your live or virtual events. What we wanted to capture here is that, if your live event provided valuable networking experiences, would attendees be willing to attend an event virtually in the following years to come. The results were telling:
- 60% said “Very Likely”
- 40% said “Likely”
To us, this is monumental. Being able to bring your attendees into a virtual space and wow them with its opportunities, content, face-to-face experiences, and overall value is no small feat. It requires a ton of work, foresight, and most importantly, the right platform to pull off the job. What these attendees are saying is that, with the right networking opportunities, they are more than willing to attend something like this in the future.
This brings forward a ton of opportunities for your company, such as hosting your events virtually, or by offering a hybrid option - part live, part virtual. Overall, it is providing you with more flexibility for your event planners and how you want to present your information, and it’s providing more attendee options for those who may only be able to attend your event virtually.
To get your wheels turning, here are some unique ways you can use a virtual or hybrid platform:
- Thought Leadership Seminars
- Company Summits
- Global Business Meetings
- Fundraisers & Auctions
- Roundtable Discussions
- Press Circuits or Writer’s Rooms
Of course, if the shoe fits, a virtual platform can be used for many of your company’s needs. As long as you are fulfilling that face-to-face interaction that many of your attendees crave, it is sure to be successful.
Does having a variety of networking opportunities make attending an event more desirable?
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Isn’t that how the saying goes? What we mean by that is, not one networking opportunity fits all. You can’t bring attendees together with one meeting and expect them all to start getting to know one another. Instead, you need to curate smaller, unique opportunities where attendees with similar interests can hit it off.
The survey results speaks for itself:
- 100% said “Yes”
That means, if you make the networking opportunities at your events special, the people will come.
Now what do we mean when we talk about “smaller, unique opportunities”? Isn’t networking just something that happens when you throw a bunch of people together at an event? Yes and no. In a virtual platform, you can be much more thoughtful with the amount of opportunities you offer, and the type of people you bring together:
- Birds of a feather breakouts
- Themed happy hours
- Live sessions with live Q&A
- Pre-recorded content with chat enabled features
- One-on-one breakout sessions
These are just a handful of networking opportunities you can give your attendees during your virtual event. Really, it’s up to you to get creative on how you want people to interact with you, your content, and each other during the event.
How can MeetingPlay help?
Now that you know the networking wants and needs of your attendees during your virtual event, how can you make it a reality? To start, you need to choose a virtual event platform to host the event, like MeetingPlay’s Virtual Event Engagement Platform.
With our platform, you have the opportunity to create unique networking experiences for your attendees without having to worry about compromising on the complexity, flexibility, and quality of your other event’s aspects.