Since lots of people attend conferences for the opportunity to network with fellow attendees and speakers, many meeting pros are concerned about making that possible in a virtual environment. A look at some ways it can be done.
As associations work to convert their conferences from in-person to virtual, many are concerned about the attendee experience and what elements may be lost in an online environment. At the top of that list for many is a staple of face-to-face events: networking opportunities. So the big question is, can effective networking happen virtually?
A recent conversation in ASAE’s Collaborate community [member login required] had association meeting pros weighing the topic.
Suggestions from conversation participants included everything from deploying meeting tools you already have—like your conference app—to trying out new virtual tools that may help re-create some in-person networking.
One tool mentioned was Remo, which features a discussion table format that mimics mingling around a cocktail table at a reception. Attendees can click on a table in a virtual banquet room to join, which takes them into a live video chat with the other five or so people at that “table.” Another platform called out was Hopin. Similar to speed networking, the tool randomly connects two participants into a live, one-on-one video chat where they have a set amount of time to talk and possibly add each other as “contacts” before time is up and they are both connected with other participants.
In addition to what association meeting pros offered up in Collaborate, I had a few other ideas. First up is rethinking a conference buddy or mentoring program for a virtual environment. For instance, while the usual program requires buddies to meet up once or twice during the in-person event, the same can be done with the virtual meeting platform your association is using.
Another idea is to host a series of virtual lounges that people can jump in and out of. During certain time blocks, you can have different facilitators—staff, speakers, or member volunteers—in the “lounges” to keep the conversation going. Or you could have a wellness room, where people can do guided meditation or yoga.
A final thought: We all know how much attendees love to customize their conference badges, and that those ribbons often serve as conversation icebreakers. Consider how to give virtual participants the ability to customize their electronic name badge the same way.
If your association moved its conference online, what have you done to create virtual networking opportunities for participants? Please share in the comments.