For an energized networking experience, remember the 4 E’s of virtual engagement

With a majority of the globe under social distancing restrictions as COVID cases continue to rise, hosting a networking event or conference may be the furthest thing on your mind. Just because you can’t host these events in-person doesn’t mean you have to postpone or cancel them altogether. You can host them virtually.

We all understand how social networking interactions can foster the development of meaningful connections and relationships. But how can you host such an event virtually that doesn’t feel like just another online meeting? How can you offer your remote attendees an atmosphere that’s fun and engaging? After all, isn’t the purpose of networking events to help people feel comfortable and get to know one another, so when they return to their office they collaborate more effectively? Here are some best practices to help you deliver a virtual networking event that’s efficient, effective, engaging – and delivers an energizing social experience.

Step 1: Be Exciting

Don’t be afraid to let your creative side out. So start with a theme for your event. A helpful hint is to base the theme on the city or venue where you had planned to host your event, like Las Vegas or New Orleans. Next, setup a brainstorming session with your colleagues. Imagine all of the sights, sounds and cuisine attendees would have experienced by visiting that location. This will not only provide ideas for your theme, but the activities you can do together as well.

Step 2: Be Effective

Most networking events start with either a cocktail hour or evening reception that give attendees the chance to get to know each other. While this can be difficult to execute virtually, it’s not impossible. So, give your attendees an opportunity to get to know each other remotely with an icebreaker activity. Ask them to answer a list of fun, personal questions using a survey tool in advance of the event. Let them know their responses will be shared. Then turn their responses in to an interactive game using a poll during the event. Ask everyone to guess how others responded to each question. You could even offer prizes, like gift cards to those with the top scores.

Step 3: Be Efficient

Timing is critical in a virtual environment, especially if your attendees live in different time zones. So following an agenda will establish the flow – the activities and timing – for your event. Unlike in-person events, where people can come and go as they please, virtual events must start and end at specified times. Timing will ensure everyone can participate in all the planned activities.

Don’t forget to rehearse! Schedule a dry run with all of the speakers. This will provide an opportunity to test connectivity and virtual platform functionality, especially if your company uses a VPN. It will also give you a chance to troubleshoot any technical issues with speakers’ microphones or web-cams before the live event. Let them use this time to practice introductions and hand-offs to ensure smooth execution.

Step 4: Be Engaging

Use breakout rooms to give attendees an opportunity to mingle in small groups, just as they would at an in-person event. These sessions are more fun when they follow the theme of your event. Let’s look at a Las Vegas theme for example. You could play casino related games like poker or blackjack. Move attendees around into different groups, this will allow them to mingle with a number of other attendees in a short amount of time.

And remember the swag! Send your attendees care packages. These items can be digital, physical or both. Digital items can include things like the agenda, login instructions and themed recipes and virtual backgrounds. Physical items may include company branded and theme related snacks and giveaways. Encourage your attendees to eat and drink during the event.

Examples of themed virtual backgrounds

Following these best practices can ensure your event runs smoothly while providing everyone a chance to relax, and have a few laughs together. During this time of working from home, and as employees are unable to have impromptu conversations in the hallways or breakroom, the need for connection is more important than ever. Organizations need to be proactive in providing opportunities for employees to interact with one another despite being physically separated.

Raytheon Professional Services’ (RPS) virtual learning experts deliver tailored virtual experiences that not only achieve customer goals, but exceed their expectations.

Reach Out to RPS

Before you put your enterprise learning and conference events on hold, let us help you plan and execute an innovative virtual experience – wherever and whenever you need. Our experienced team can provide the resources you need – from moderators; to technical support teams; to logistics and help desk support.

Don’t have the right equipment to host a virtual event? Don’t worry, RPS can recommend or provide exactly what is needed to pull off a high quality and engaging experience, including customized materials to promote participant engagement and interaction. To learn how our virtual event experts can help you address your organization’s needs, please contact us, or visit our website at RPS.com.

What experiences do you have planning and delivering virtual events? Do you have best practices you’d like to share? Start a conversation in the comments below or connect with our experts on LinkedIn, or Twitter at @RaytheonRPS using hashtags, #learning, #training, #virtuallearning, and #onlinelearning.