Instead of logging off right after an event ends, virtual attendees can take advantage of online tools, social media channels, and virtual conferencing features for networking.
Virtual events have their advantages, but networking with other attendees is often a challenge. The physical separation means it’s common for virtual attendees to close their laptops and disconnect instead of attempting to re-create one of the biggest benefits of in-person gatherings: mingling with colleagues and striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to them.
As an association professional, you’re probably eager to go back to in-person conferences—both for your organization’s attendees and for the events you’d like to attend for your own professional development. But Beth Surmont, CAE, CMP, vice president of event business strategy and design at 360 Live Media, offers a reminder that in-person networking isn’t always smooth sailing either.
“With this year of virtual events, people have this magical view of in-person events where we were all happy and finding each other,” she says. “That was not true. [Networking] can be highly inefficient and largely serendipitous.”
While it may seem more difficult to network effectively after a virtual event, there are still plenty of opportunities, Surmont says. She offers these tips for the next time you attend one—and they may inspire you to help your own attendees keep their connections going after your virtual events.
Look for Built-in Networking Opportunities
A good virtual event organizer will make your life easier by leaving time after sessions for attendees to chat. Check the event calendar for any scheduled discussions or breakout rooms where a small group of attendees can speak with each other and share ideas. You can exchange contact information there so you’re able to get in touch again later.
Does the virtual event platform have a chat feature? Don’t assume the conversation ends when a particular session does: Stay in the chat after a session comes to a close, as some event organizers will leave chats open. Surmont says this year’s SXSW worked that way—sessions that had already concluded were on demand and still had an active chat box a day later.
“Most platforms, the way they work is that you have a page that has all the tools: the chat, Q&A, the poll, whatever they might be. And then it’s just the content that comes on and comes off,” Surmont says. “For the duration of the event being open—which might be three days or might be three months—those features are usually still turned on. But it depends on the platform.”
Some virtual event platforms even have AI that makes automated recommendations on whom attendees should connect with based on shared interests or skills.
Surmont advises being intentional about your networking efforts. So, just as you would for an in-person event, find out who’s attending and identify individuals you would like to connect with by checking out event pages on social media. Then you’ll know who to interact with in the chat and where to reach them on social media after the event.
When the day’s proceedings close, be ready to spend time in the virtual lobby or exhibit hall. Another tip: Seek out event partners.
“Partners are a wealth of information and experts at their jobs. They also know everybody,” Surmont says. “He or she could say, ‘Hey, do you know so-and-so?’ and introduce me to that person.”
Take Advantage of Social Media
Head to social media and keep the conversation going by sharing your favorite part of the day’s event, a question you had about an interesting topic, or a photo showing off the virtual event platform. To connect with the right people, use an event-specific hashtag.
If someone shares the same interests or makes an interesting point in the chat, look up that person on LinkedIn and send a message asking to connect. Making that first move can help keep you from feeling isolated at virtual events.
“Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of going to an in-person event with a bag over your head or blinders on and never turning to talk to the person next to you,” Surmont says. “You get out of things what you put into them.”
There might also be a post-event page on Facebook where attendees interact with each other. Better yet, you could create your own page that centers on the event’s theme and invite other attendees to join. On that page, you could have regularly scheduled conversations about the topic and build connections.
“There are people on Facebook that I’ve never met that I send Christmas gifts to because we belong to the same group of people who listen to the same podcast, and we’ve created this supportive community,” Surmont says. “It’s that same kind of thinking—a place for like-minded people to go.”