Meeting and event planners have had to learn at rapid speed all about the virtual event world and how their conference fits in it. So many technologies, platforms, options and very little guidance on where to even begin. But once you’ve got that part figured out, there’s one piece of the virtual event puzzle that seems to be looming…the networking events.
What in the world are we supposed to do with those? Can people really build relationships at a virtual conference? Well, the short answer is “yes!”
We’ve been experimenting and researching with lots of reception-style virtual events over the past few months. Here’s what we learned:
Just like you would for a live special event, programming your virtual reception is key to its success. From the moment guests sign on to the second they sign off, every single minute matters. Plus, virtual events need a little more moderation since guests need to be directed every step of the way, so be sure to have a plan for the event flow and rehearse with all of the hosts or presenters in advance so there are no surprises when it’s time to go live.
MAKE IT FUN
Guests want to do more than just stare at each other and they are relying on you as the planner to provide them with the tools to do more. Get creative and come up with something fun! Make a cocktail together, offer a wine or bourbon tasting, provide tips from a style expert on summer trends, arrange flowers from the grocery store…the ideas are endless!
AVOID THE AWKWARD
Just like a live reception needs some music, so does a virtual one. Amazing musicians are very affordable right now. Hire an acoustic guitarist or singer to perform as guests sign on, and then a bit later for a private concert. Nothing is more awkward than joining a virtual event with strangers in complete silence.
ADD A SPONSOR OR BRANDING OPPORTUNITY
Surprise and delight your attendees the old school way… with a gift in the mail! Do you know how exciting a wine bundle or craft cocktail kit would be to someone right now? This is prime time to make an impression and sponsors are looking for ways to do just that.
Can’t find a sponsor to fund it? Give your attendees the option to purchase this during your registration, you would be surprised how many people are searching for an experience right now. Plus, if they have something tangible, they are much more likely to join to the event.
KEEP IT SHORT & SIMPLE
Production needs to be flawless and simple – don’t overthink this. Guests want to have a good time, interact and learn about something fun, and see friendly faces they haven’t seen in a while. One hour tops is our suggestion for any networking-style virtual event.
THE SMALLER THE BETTER
Got a large group? Consider smaller virtual reception breakouts. People are more likely to interact, type in the chat, etc. if groups are under 30 people. Also consider using a platform like Icebreaker that allows attendees to get matched with other people for a speed-dating style game. It’s a ton of fun and great way to meet people virtually.
No doubt there’s a lot to consider when designing a virtual reception, but just remember to make it fun and keep it simple. And we’re here to help if you need it.