Meetings

Groups Explore New Networking Options for Virtual Events

By / Apr 1, 2021 (elenabs/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

While associations put a lot of hard work into quickly transitioning their in-person events to virtual offerings last year, many received feedback from participants that networking opportunities fell short. With that in mind, many groups are trying new offerings to boost engagement among attendees.

As associations pored over attendee evaluations for their virtual conferences last year, it’s likely that almost all of them got feedback like this repeatedly: “I missed the spontaneous hallway conversations.” “The networking options need to be improved.” “Please think about how to incorporate more informal interactions between attendees.”

Even though networking in a virtual environment can be more difficult and feel a bit forced, many associations made it a priority for their late 2020 and early 2021 conferences. Here’s a look at what several groups are trying out:

Association for Talent Development. For its October 2020 ATD Virtual Conference, the group offered numerous ways for participants to connect with one another. Among the options: a “Share Your Top Takeaway” networking session to hear from other attendees about what their conference “aha” moment was; happy-hour group chats and roundtables; and the ability to record short introduction videos that other conference attendees could watch in the networking lounge. ATD even put together a virtual networking guide [PDF] with detailed instructions for participants.

Coalition on Adult Basic Education. Last month, COABE held its 2021 National Virtual Conference. Attendees had a lot of fun networking options available to them, including a virtual bingo game and trivia night. Or they could take part in a happy hour or a digital literacy and technology discussion. In addition, COABE has an ongoing public discussion forum where attendees can ask questions, post pictures, and informally chat with one another.

NAPCP – Advancing Commercial Card & Payment Practices Worldwide. The upcoming 2021 NAPCP Commercial Card and Payment Virtual Conference, which takes place in May, has a host of networking options. For instance, there will be several live facilitated discussions in the networking lounge that people can dial in to or participate in via a discussion board. And in the exhibit hall, attendees can interact in real time with booth staff.

North Carolina Museums Council. The NCMC Virtual Conference, which wrapped up earlier this week, offered attendees the chance to get to know each other during several networking breaks that took place over the course of the three-day event. Participants were invited to introduce their “furry coworkers” on camera, share their best at-home work hacks and favorite TV shows to binge, and do some desk yoga and meditations.

Society for Clinical Data Management. When attendees registered for the September 2020 SCDM Virtual Conference, they answered a few questions about their interests that automatically matched them with other participants so they could chat and schedule meetings and calls with each other. Participants also could network with conference cochairs and speakers throughout the event.

It will be interesting to see how virtual networking options evolve, especially as hybrid conferences pick up over the next few months. What new virtual networking offerings is your association experimenting with currently? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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