Lessons From a Virtual Networking Incubator

The Virtual Networking Incubator brought more than 150 association pros together six times over the course of 12 weeks to explore virtual networking and its potential. In a recent online discussion, Incubator hosts shared what they learned and how groups can apply those ideas.

Since the start of the pandemic, associations have tried several ways to introduce meaningful virtual networking to their online events.

Knowing that not every online networking idea has been a success but also knowing that virtual attendees are still looking to make meaningful connections with fellow participants, Matchbox Virtual Media and Kaiser Insights LLC hosted a Virtual Networking Incubator made up of “community members committed to exploring creative virtual event design made for expanding attendee networks.”

Over the course of 12 weeks, the Incubator brought together 150-plus association professionals (who applied to be part of the cohort) six times to explore virtual networking and its potential. Each gathering in the “incubator garden” was intentionally designed to explore key virtual networking concepts, practices, and considerations. Participants also tested out several tools, platforms, and technologies during these get-togethers. The goal was not only to allow participants to connect, co-create, and collaborate, but also to inspire them to bring back new virtual networking ideas to their own associations.

During this week’s “Results: A Networking Garden Party,” Incubator hosts Amanda Kaiser, Arianna Rehak, and Sze Pak Ng discussed several ideas they took away from the 12-week program and how associations can use them to improve the virtual networking experience at their own online events. Here’s a look at a few of them.

Create a Code of Conduct

For virtual networking to be effective, “you need to establish a safe space and environment,” said Matchbox CEO Rehak. For the Incubator, they created the Golden Rule Haiku:

Learn. Share. Try. Be Kind.

Support All. Be Generous.

Be Here With Purpose.

“We would literally recite it before each session and ground people in that comfort,” Rehak said. “It helped establish a safe environment where people were comfortable participating, it aligned with our event’s tone, and it was easy to refer back to.”

This approach is similar to the meeting agreement the Western Arts Alliance developed to encourage better conversations during virtual meetings by fostering engagement and room for people who may not feel comfortable speaking up.

accommodate Different Personality Types

“In the virtual environment, it’s so important to intentionally consider the entire continuum of introversion to extroversion and to provide value no matter where your participants may land on in that continuum,” said Kaiser, member engagement specialist at Kaiser Insights LLC. “Know what makes your introverts and extroverts feel most uncomfortable or anxious about networking.”

And then knowing that information, hosts should consider how they can foster connections and environments that allow for collaborative problem solving. “People working toward overcoming a challenge or having a co-creation element is a quick way to get people talking and participating,” Rehak added.

Plan for Failure

As associations know by now, not all of your attendees are going to have an equal comfort level with technology, and technical glitches are bound to happen. So it’s important to consider what to do when your virtual participants are having tech issues.

Rehak recounted one case where some Incubator participants weren’t able to gain access to a specific tool, so they were left in the main Zoom room. However, the three hosts did their best to keep the conversation going in that room to maintain a positive experience for those who got stuck.

“We made the most of it. These were actually additional opportunities to have another conversation and collectively problem solve,” said Ng, community engagement specialist at Matchbox. “It’s important to approach any issues with, ‘Let’s solve this together,’ instead of ‘This is your problem to figure out.’”

What other elements do you think are required for virtual networking to be more successful? Please share in the comments.

(cagkansayin/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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