How to Make Human Connections at Virtual Events
Virtual events allow for access to cutting-edge content and thought leadership from the comforts of your couch, but this comes with a big trade-off with regards to networking opportunities. After all, 78% of event attendees say networking is a driving factor for their participation. While shaking hands during snack-breaks may be off the table in the foreseeable future, this doesn’t mean you can’t make human connections at virtual events. Casey Saran is CEO of Spaceback explores the benefits of virtual events.
Experts agree that COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the adoption of digital technologies, and this is especially evident for the events industry where the number of virtual events more than doubled from 2019 to 2020. A whopping 63% of event organizers that had planned for in-person events in 2020 were successful in shifting their events to digital formats (Financial Management Magazine). It’s been particularly impressive to see how organizations like Brand Innovators, who have traditionally produced hundreds of in-person events a year, have quickly shifted to a digital format focusing on virtual seminars, podcasts, and live webinars. Attendance of their events is way up in 2021, proving that participants are still finding immense value in events despite the digital makeover.
Virtual events allow for access to cutting-edge content and thought leadership from the comforts of your couch, but this comes with a big trade-off with regards to networking opportunities. After all, 78% of event attendees say networking is a driving factor for their participation (Source: ON24.). While shaking hands during snack-breaks may be off the table in the foreseeable future, this doesn’t mean you can’t make human connections at virtual events! I have hosted and participated in over 30 digital conferences in the past 10 months and have found that not only is networking still possible, it can be even more effective when approached correctly! Here are some tips that I’ve picked up over the years that will help you step up your digital networking game. Many of these techniques are not new and also apply when attending in-person events, but have become even more crucial in digital-only settings.
Get your hands on the attendee list
Ask the event organizers for their attendee list. Most times organizers do not mind sharing their attendee list so there is no harm in asking. Check for event guides and apps, too for the list of attendees and speakers. Review the list and check profiles of the attendees to identify your networking targets. Plan your outreach pre-and post-event through different media like email, LinkedIn, etc.
Make the most of LinkedIn
As of Jan 2021, LinkedIn has over 600MM users with more than 40% visiting the site daily. This is probably the most reliable way to research and connect with other attendees. Always reach out to people you want to connect with using a personal note. Everyone gets 100s of LinkedIn requests, but a personalized note referencing something you have in common will always stand out amongst the cold outreach attempts. Don’t forget to mention the conference you are both attending. Engage them in a conversation and try to understand what their goals are and their motivation for participating. Follow up with them after the conference to discuss the key takeaways.
Stay active on social media
89% of event planners use social media to promote their conference and to engage with participants. Actively engage with the content (by commenting on the posts) on the event’s social channels. This increases your visibility within the event community, and also help speakers better understand the audience so they can cater their content appropriately. It’s also helpful to search the event hashtags to identify key themes and engage with the event community.
Engage with the speakers and presenters
Presenting at digital events is challenging and presenters rarely know how engaged their audiences are. 39% of presenters agree that audience engagement is the largest challenge when it comes to virtual events. The next biggest challenge is interaction (Event Manager Blog 2021.) Use tools like Q&A chat, voting, etc. available to you during the conference to show them you are paying attention. Start informal conversations with your fellow attendees through these tools regarding the topic being discussed.
Share informative articles and posts
Post insightful articles about the topics to be discussed at the conference on your social media using relevant event hashtags. This content doesn’t have to be something you created, but can be public-facing articles or opinion pieces relevant to the subject. Engage in meaningful conversations with people who comment on your posts. Actively engaging with the event attendees as well as presenters outside of the event environment will help you connect with your target network on a more personal level.
Don’t forget to follow up after the event
A great way to stay in front of your new network while the event is still fresh is to connect with them once the event ends. Send personalized emails to your new contacts requesting to connect one-on-one. Send thank-you notes to the speakers from the event highlighting your key takeaways and how they might help you in your professional life. Respond to other attendees who are looking to connect with you via social media or email.
Provide constructive feedback
90% of virtual event organizers send out surveys to attendees to collect feedback for their event. More than 30% use social media to do the same. Be honest about the event. Compliment the speakers and topics that most resonated with you. Your feedback will help them shape future conferences better. It is also a great way to stay top of mind after the conference. Additionally, look for online review forums like Linkedin or Facebook Groups to post your feedback. Many times event organizers can feature your feedback on their social media channels or their website giving you additional exposure.
Just because you can’t shake hands and kiss babies, doesn’t mean you can’t network! Making human connections at virtual events is still possible, it just requires a bit of effort and thinking outside-the-box. Hopefully, these tips will help you get more out of virtual events! And if you have other tips to share, I’d love to hear from you and do some digital networking ;)
Casey Saran is CEO of Spaceback.