I will be the first to admit, that nothing will replace in person interactions. Period. With that being said, we have found ourselves in a world in which virtual events are not an option, but are one of the only ways to connect your community together and give them a space to connect!
As always, at CMX, we are big believers in not reinventing the wheel. We believe in sharing knowledge, educating each other, and building the community up so everyone can succeed! So, I teamed up with some experts in this field, and compiled a list of the best ways to utilize virtual networking to your advantage, and how to actually engage your attendees, to create an awesome experience.
Read on for tips for creating an awesome 1:1 virtual networking experience. Want to learn how to run an engaging virtual event? Check this blog post post.
Lisa Conn, Co-Founder of Icebreaker, is a community organizer and expert in building healthy community, and has been building and perfecting this kind of virtual experience since the company’s inception. Their mission at Icebreaker is to strengthen communities by giving people a sense of togetherness online that they typically only feel in person.
Ann Marie Pawlicki-Dinkel is the Event Manager at CMX. After having worked on events like Dreamforce, Coachella, and the Superbowl, Ann Marie joined the CMX team and is bringing her exciting experience to our virtual community events. Since March, she has hosted over 15 virtual events including a 2,800 person virtual conference, that have all included virtual networking opportunities. Ann-Marie works with the CMX Community in her heart, and builds some of the best virtual event experiences in the industry.
With that, here are 8 tips for hosting awesome 1:1 virtual networking sessions:
Tip 1: Establish the purpose and the value
Start with the question, what do you as the event organizer, want attendees to gain from this virtual networking session? Is it to simply meet and connect with other people? Is it to discuss a specific question, an article, or event, or is it to give each other feedback, like a resume review, or mock job interview sessions?
And then, think about the value of your event. Why should people spend an hour of their day here? How do their needs overlap or diverge with mine? What am I trying to accomplish? Why am I gathering people for 1:1 conversations? What do I want to happen when the event is over?
Wondering how to get people to actually show up to your virtual events? Check out this advice from the CMX Connect Hosts!
Tip 2: Focus on who is in the room
Your attendees want, nay… need to know who is in the room with them. Setting the expectations about who they will meet, what they will talk about, and why they are there, will help people to feel more comfortable opening up and meeting new people.
One of the biggest pieces of feedback we received after CMX Global Connect, was about the networking space being daunting. The platform on which we hosted Global featured a grey screen with a button that said, “ready to get started?”. With no expectations about who would be on the other end of the video call, most attendees decided that no, they weren’t ready to ‘get started’, and they avoided the networking tab altogether.
- Have everyone update their profile in whichever platform you are using – having an up to date and accurate photo, and basic info like name and pronouns will help attendees feel comfortable around each other.
- Remind people who else is in the room, what the group’s shared identity is, and why every person in attendance belongs there.
- Consider breaking your event into subgroups by geography, role, or interest so that every potential 1:1 connection will be meaningful for the participants.
- Consider how you will incorporate diversity into the guest list so that your participants have the opportunity to connect with people outside of their typical circles.
Tip 3: Share the agenda in advance so people know what to expect.
Networking can be stressful for some people. Whether it’s in-person or virtually, being put into a 1:1 situation with a stranger can be awkward and awful. People feel more comfortable when they know what to expect. So, share a brief agenda prior to the event to folks who RSVP’d. Let them know the questions you’re going to ask, and the general timing of the event. How much time will they have to spend in each conversation? How will they know when it’s time to wrap up? Consider having a timer set that will let your attendees know when there is a minute left. This gives participants a chance to properly wrap up their conversation and not just abruptly them cut off.
And, just as it is at in person events, all attendees have a choice to opt in or out of a virtual conversation. Let your attendees know that they have that choice and they can leave at any time.
Tip 4: Use conversation prompts to help break the ice
Sometimes, people need a little nudge. It can take a lot for someone to be ready to talk to a stranger, and everyone’s a little different. Consider giving attendees a starting point to help them kick off their 1:1 conversations. Conversation prompts are a great way to help people connect with each other as their full selves — not just their work selves.
Starting with some basic conversation starters like, your name, where you’re based, and what you ate for breakfast are fun, simple ways to break the ice. But don’t stop there! Asking questions that encourage people to share stories about who they are as humans and connect in a more real way, will ensure everyone shakes off those networking jitters.
If you’re stuck for ideas, Icebreaker has dozens of pre-made event templates with pre-written conversation prompts to make this easy for you.
Tip 5: Facilitate an equitable environment.
Power dynamics often come into play during gatherings in a big way, and the loudest or most powerful participants dominate the conversation. 1:1 conversations are naturally equalizing, because everyone has a chance to be seen and heard. This is definitely a benefit of hosting these kinds of virtual networking sessions.
Consider randomizing matches so that everyone has an equal chance of matching with each other. Remove the idea of hierarchies or professional status. In this event, it shouldn’t matter whether you are a CEO or a junior intern. Today, everyone gets a chance to be seen and have their voice heard.
Tip 6: Establish and enforce rules.
Establishing rules and guidelines are important for any online space, and the same goes for virtual event spaces. Safety is table stakes for any virtual gathering. Only when people feel safe can they relax and connect.
Begin the session with announcing these guidelines. This creates a safe space, where everyone understands what is expected of them, and what they can expect from others. After you’ve set out the guidelines, let attendees know how they will be enforced – will an attendee receive a warning, will they be removed from the event immediately, etc.
Some guideline ideas:
- Cameras on. Attendees should keep their camera on for the duration of the event. This helps to keep them engaged, and it encourages better connections among participants
- The Vegas rule. What’s shared in the group stays in the group
- Step up, step back rule. Remind participants to step up and use their voice when they have something to stay but also to step back and make room for other voices if you feel you’ve been saying a lot
Check out The Art of Facilitating Virtual Discussion Groups and Breakouts for more guideline ideas!
Tip 7: Make it easy for attendees to follow up on great connections.
Remember that with any networking event, your number one goal is to connect people to each other — not just once, but in a lasting, meaningful way. Ensure that people have a way of following up with their best conversation partners, either via the technology you are using to host the event, or outside of it.
Tip 8: Have fun!
Zoom fatigue is real. Differentiate your event from the countless other virtual events people attend and you’ll see engagement go up. When your event starts, play upbeat music to make the room feel lively and special. Pick a theme and ask everyone to dress accordingly. 90’s night, anyone? Ship physical materials to all attendees in advance — whether it’s drinks, snacks, or decorations. Enjoying the same drink or snack can make us feel a little closer together, even when we’re apart.
Check out all the upcoming events from CMX Connect to connect with other community professionals, and to learn more about how to run your community.
Don’t forget to check out Icebreaker for all your virtual 1:1 networking needs!