How To Host a Virtual Networking Event for Your Professional Association

Membership December 06, 2021

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

If you run a professional association, you know that one of the best member benefits you can offer is the opportunity to network. 

Now, in-person association networking events can be a bit of a hassle to organize. Not to mention, sometimes they’re simply not possible (like when a global pandemic hits, for example). 


Luckily, there are ways for your members to network virtually. In a lot of ways, virtual networking is even better than in-person networking. Keep reading to discover the benefits of virtual networking, how to organize your own virtual networking events, and what software options you have available to you. 

What Is Virtual Networking?

Virtual networking is so much more than just an alternative to in-person networking. It allows professionals to make new connections, learn, grow, open new doors, and possibly even advance their careers, all from the comfort of their own home and on their own schedule. 


Virtual networking can be done through social media, forums, article comment sections, email and instant messaging, video calls, phone calls, and virtual events. 


Why Is Virtual Networking Important?

Professionals across all industries saw a rise in virtual networking during the COVID-19 pandemic. For obvious reasons, it’s been much safer than going out and meeting people at in-person events. 


However, many tech savvy professionals have been engaging in virtual networking long before COVID and will continue to do so for as long as it’s possible. This is because virtual networking comes with a unique set of benefits that are impossible to replicate with in-person networking. Here are just a few:


  • It allows busy professionals to squeeze networking into their packed schedules without wasting time on travel and logistics. 

  • It makes networking more accessible for disabled or chronically ill professionals. 

  • It allows professionals to attend events and meet people in cities and countries they otherwise wouldn’t be able to travel to.

  • It allows event organizers to bring in speakers from all over the world who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to travel to their location (this likely makes the speaker more affordable, too!). 

  • Virtual networking events are faster and less expensive to organize because there’s no need to book and manage a physical space. 


What Do Members Want Out of Networking?

In order to help your members gain the most out of their virtual networking experiences, you need to understand what exactly they’re looking for. Though goals vary from person to person, most professionals look for one or more of the following:


  • To grow a professional community: having a supportive and engaged community of like-minded professionals to rely on can lead to a more prosperous and fulfilling career.

  • To develop skills and qualifications: professionals greatly value opportunities for growth and development, and they often hear about and receive these opportunities from others in their industry.

  • To find job opportunities: only a handful of job openings are posted on public job boards — most others are discovered through engaging in relevant conversations with other professionals. 

  • To build a client base: for account managers and business owners, every social interaction is an opportunity to attract a new client, so they see networking as a way to spread the word about what they offer and help solve someone’s problem with their product or service. 


Tips for Virtual Networking Events: Planning

Planning a virtual networking event is a lot simpler than planning an in-person event. That being said, there are still a few things you need to take care of. When planning your event, consider the following questions:


1. What's the goal of the virtual networking event? 

Think back to what your members want out of virtual networking and then plan an event that will help them achieve it. Better yet, survey them to see what kind of event they would actually attend and what they would want to gain from it. 


2. What type of virtual networking event is it? 

We’ll cover the various options in a later section


3. How many people will you invite? 

The number of attendees will determine what software you’ll need, how much it will cost, and what event structure you’ll need to organize in order to keep everyone engaged and actively participating. 


4. What type of functionality will you need? 

Do you need an online group with a forum, a virtual event platform, break-out rooms, or instant messaging? Once you’ve determined your needs, be sure to check out some of the most popular virtual networking platforms in this section to see if any of them are a suitable option. 


5. How will you promote your event?

This will look different depending on whether your event is for members only or open to the public. Regardless, the better your turnout, the more networking your attendees will experience.


6. How will you measure the success of your event?

How will you know whether or not you achieve the goals you set out at the beginning. Will you try to get a certain number of attendees, new members, or simply high ratings in a post-event survey? 


Tips for Virtual Networking Events: Hosting

Though there are clear benefits to attending virtual networking events, it can be a little challenging to engage attendees when you’re competing with so many potential distractions (other browser tabs, their cell-phone, a quick trip to the kitchen for a snack, etc…)


To help your attendees stay interested and actively participating, try to do the following:


1. Create a warm and welcoming environment:

Everyone knows the benefits of networking, but it doesn’t mean everyone enjoys it. You can help make participants feel as comfortable as possible by facilitating simple icebreaker games and providing conversation prompts.


2. Set expectations 

Participants will be much more likely to stay for the entire duration of the event and have a good time if they know why they’re there, what they’re supposed to get out of it, and what they can expect.


3. Provide a quick tech tutorial

Even though most of your attendees will be familiar with virtual event platforms, you should always assume that there’s at least one person who needs a quick tutorial or reminder. Go over all the different functions like break-out rooms, instant messaging, Q&A box, and reactions (this is a great opportunity to encourage people to use these functions, as well). Be sure to also go over a few things participants can do to troubleshoot things like missing audio or a broken connection. 

 

4. Cater the event

Offering free breakfast or lunch is a surefire way to attract event attendees. You can replicate this effect in the virtual space by sending out e-gift cards to a food delivery service. Invite your members to order food to their home and enjoy the meal while attending your virtual event. 


Tips for Virtual Networking Events: Post-Event

The work doesn’t end when your event is over and everyone has logged off. Now is a great time to keep engaging your attendees and encourage them to do the same. 


On your end, be sure to send a thank you email to everyone who attended or presented. It’s also a great idea to send out a post-event survey to find out what you did well and what can be improved next time. 


Help your attendees stay in touch with each other by sharing a list of everyone who attended and their contact information (with their permission, of course). If you used an event platform with networking features, make sure participants have access to this platform for a few weeks after the event is over. Encourage them to get in touch with each other and continue building the relationships they started at your event. 


9 Virtual Networking Ideas

1. VIP Speaker or Panel Discussion

Invite your members to virtually attend a speaker presentation or panel discussion, followed by a Q&A session. Include a networking portion by creating break-out rooms and encouraging them to join different discussions. 

2. Moderated Roundtable Discussion

Invite your members to participate in the conversation by hosting a virtual roundtable discussion. This works well for smaller groups, since everyone has a chance to speak. If you’ve got a larger group, consider splitting it up into break-out rooms and asking one spokesperson from each group to share their takeaways at the end. 

3. Happy Hour

Happy hour events are much more casual and typically occur after business hours. Make them fun for your attendees by preparing entertaining conversation topics or even small games. They’ll be making connections and building relationships without even realizing it!

4. Virtual Speed Networking

Video conferencing tools like Zoom have break-out room features that are perfect for speed networking. Simply place attendees into small rooms for 5-10 minutes before switching them to another room. These speed networking sessions can be one-on-one or in groups of 3-4 people. 

5. Online Classes or Group Coaching

Professional development and networking go hand-in-hand. Invite members to an educational class, webinar, or coaching sessions, and they’ll be guaranteed to meet someone who shares their interests and career aspirations. To make networking even easier, dedicate time to it at the end of the educational portion of the event. 

6. Mentorship Programs

Setting up a mentorship program can be beneficial to both mentors and mentees. Simply invite your members to sign up, match them based on their interests and experience, and ask them to meet virtually for their mentoring sessions. It’s much more convenient and flexible than meeting in-person. 

7. Community Engagement Project

Volunteering as a group is a great way to build relationships while giving back to the community. The best part is, volunteering can be virtual, too. Invite your members to join a group video call while they assemble care packages or write handwritten cards. If you need help, there are plenty of organizations who can set you up with a virtual volunteering activity. 

8. Online Community

Not all virtual networking needs to happen via a video call or event — your members can also network on their own time by joining an online community. This can be a members-only portion of your website, a Facebook group, a LinkedIn group, or a CommUnity space

9. Professional Social Media Hashtags

Online networking doesn’t have to happen in dedicated online spaces, either. Simply encourage your members to follow hashtags related to their industry (e.g. #TaxTwitter) and see what conversations they can join and connections they can make. 


7 Software Tools You Should Consider for Virtual Networking

1. Clubhouse

Clubhouse is an audio-based social network that allows users to participate in or listen to conversations in real time. It’s great for putting on events with a specific discussion topic. 

Pricing: Free

 

Clubhouse

2. Google Meet

Google Meet is a browser-based video conferencing platform. Teams who already use other Google products enjoy seamless integration with apps like Google Calendar and Gmail. 

Pricing: Free for up to 100 participants and group meetings of up to 1 hour in length. Premium plans available as part of Google Workspace (starting at $7.99 per user per month).  

Google Meet

3. Zoom

Zoom is a video conferencing and virtual event platform. It’s perfect for one-on-one meetings, group meetings, webinars, and speaker presentations. 

 

Pricing: Free for up to 100 participants and group meetings of up to 40 minutes in length. Paid plans start at $14.99 per user per month. 

 

Zoom

4. Eventify

Eventify is a complete event management system that enables registration, attendee check-in, video conferencing, networking, analytics, and much more. 


Pricing: Choose between $99/month, one-time payment of $399, or $1 per ticket

 

Eventify

5. CommUnity

CommUnity allows your organization to create a unique online space where members can come together, share resources, communicate, and connect. 


Pricing: Available upon request. 

 

Community

6. Brella

Brella is an event platform designed for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events, with a focus on matchmaking and networking. 


Pricing: Available upon request. 

 

Brella

7. Wonder

Wonder is a platform designed specifically for virtual events and networking. Attendees can move freely in and out of rooms to have relevant conversations and make meaningful connections. 


Pricing: Available upon request. 

 

Wonder


How Wild Apricot Can Help With Your Events

Though not a dedicated virtual events platform, Wild Apricot can help you run your events smoothly by taking care of registrations, payments, managing RSVPs, sending out communications, and staying in touch with your attendees after the event is over. 


It will completely automate all the administrative tasks related to running your association and organizing events, so you can focus on bringing your members together and building a community. 


Want to try out Wild Apricot and see how it can help you save time and money, while increasing revenue? Click here to start a free 30-day trial! 


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