It’s a terrific way to kick off a virtual event!
I’ll skip to the punch line and tell you that, when attendees participate in virtual speed networking, they create new connections, are more engaged with your event, and foster a stronger connection to your brand.
We’ll dig into those benefits, get into the details of what this event activity is really about, and how best to implement it as part of your next online event.
What Is Virtual Speed Networking?
You may not have personally gone to a speed dating event, but perhaps you’ve seen The 40 Year Old Virgin:
Virtual Speed Networking is pretty much the same, without the awkwardness.
Attendees will join your virtual event platform’s speed networking area and each will be matched with another attendee for a predetermined number of minutes, giving them an opportunity to meet and talk to each other.
At the end of each time period, the system will automatically end their chat and pair them each up with someone new. Over and over, for as long as you schedule the networking time.
It’s a 1:1 video chat facilitated by the virtual event platform, so just imagine a series of Zoom calls happening within your virtual event. Attendees just have to join, let the platform match them up, then talk to the other person.
Ok, maybe there’s a little awkwardness after all.
Fortunately, most virtual event platforms allow you to offer some question prompts on screen so you can help attendees break the ice and get started, such as, where are you from? What do you do? What event session are you looking forward to most?
There are many other types of virtual event sessions and engagement opportunities, but none are as deliberate and focused on 100% networking participation as virtual speed networking, so you will definitely need to include it in your virtual event plan and agenda.
Why Virtual Speed Networking?
It’s important to recognize first that the more engaging your event, the more successful it will be, by any measure.
I’ve told this story before. One year I attended Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio. I purchased a ticket, flight and hotel, travelled to Cleveland from St. Louis, and walked over to the convention center to devote two full days to that event.
While I was there, at a lunch and learn session, the presenter started to pitch their solution and wasn’t teaching me anything I didn’t already know. So I slipped out of that session and went looking for a different session to hop into.
Did I leave the event? Of course not. After everything I went through to get there, I wasn’t about to bail after just one sales pitch.
But what if I’d been at home, at a virtual event?
I might have opened email or another tab, jumped into a Slack convo or work project, and could have easily gotten absorbed by something unrelated to the event.
Your attendees can and will leave your event with little regret or remorse. Keeping them active and engaged is the only way to keep them at all. And keep them you must. Attendees that wander off to other tabs or activities not only miss the benefits your event offers, they fail to create any connection to your brand that would have resulted from a great event experience.
An attendee that only has your event in another tab or, worse, closes it out completely, might as well not have attended at all.
But, an attendee that shows up, pays attention, talks to others, and gets value out of the event, will form a positive impression of the event and your brand. When you email them after the event, they will be more inclined to open your email and consider your offer.
So if engagement is the endzone, virtual speed networking is opening kickoff returned for a touchdown.
(For my non-football fan readers, that’s one of the most exciting ways an American football game can begin.)
For the first 30-45 minutes of your event, attendees can skip happily from one engaging chat to another, meeting interesting people and having a lot of fun. It is the ultimate icebreaker, opening attendees up to commenting and engaging with all of your other sessions.
Furthermore, when an attendee is in a session or looking at who is participating in round table discussions, if they see someone they met earlier during virtual speed networking, they will be even more likely to chat and engage with that person.
And the more often these engaging moments happen, the more opportunities your attendees have to create memorable moments. I call these Magical Moments because no one can ever predict who you’ll meet or what will happen, but there’s always the chance to meet your next client, partner, boss, employee, or friend.
When I was at Social Media Marketing World in 2018, I had the opportunity to meet Stephanie Liu in person and that meeting kicked off what was to become the best friendship and business partnership. We constantly support, encourage and challenge each other, like Frodo and Sam, Sam and Frodo.
You may not be able to predict or orchestrate magical moments like that, but you can create space and opportunity for your attendees, then leave the rest to them.
Virtual Event Platform Support
While it’s possible to DIY virtual speed networking with just about any video meeting tool, such as Zoom or Google Meet, it’s a far smoother experience if the platform you’re using for your virtual event supports speed networking natively.
Event attendees should be able to:
- Opt in to the activity
- Have an automated time for each chat
- Have a scheduled start and stop time for the session
- Participate without leaving the event platform
Some event platforms use third party integrations or send attendees out of the event, which isn’t ideal. Therefore, I am only going to list and recommend tool options that expressly support virtual speed networking.
If you find or work for another virtual event platform that supports speed networking, that I haven’t listed, shoot me an email and I will add it!
Speed Networking Options & Best Practices
A couple of best practices I already mentioned are to schedule speed networking as the first exclusive session of your day, and to give it a scheduled start and end time like any other session. That will encourage attendees to participate, as well as give the activity structure and visibility on the agenda.
If the platform allows it, specify some icebreaker questions and prompts. If it doesn’t, find someplace else to share those prompts, such as in the session description and the event chat.
Since many of your attendees will not have participated in virtual speed networking before, prepare them. Make the session description detailed and include information in your event email and other communication. Get a couple of your speakers to test it in advance and shoot a video talking and laughing about their experience that you can share to social media.
And incentivize participation! Some virtual event platforms have built in gamification and can track and assign points for attendee participation. If yours doesn’t do that natively, that’s ok, you can use networking bingo cards! Give attendees a PDF bingo card in advance with attributes that might make sense in context, such as “started their own business” or “hosts a podcast” and let them fill in their cards throughout that day as they meet people.
Because this is inherently a video chat, it’s best if attendees are able to log into your virtual event platform in advance so that they can set up their video and fill in their profile. If you cannot open the platform days in advance, schedule a ‘check in’ time for the first 15-30 minutes of the day for folks to log in and get settled.
Matchmaking is an option that some platforms offer. If your attendees naturally fall into two or more groups, such as vendors and clients, you can encourage attendees to self-identify during registration and then set up your virtual speed networking to automatically pair attendees according to those groups. That may or may not make sense for your event.
It’s certainly a great way though to ensure that specific segments of your audience meet each other and form great connections.
Another great tip is to make sure that your virtual event platform of choice supports rich profiles and 1:1 meetings so that attendees can connect with each, learn more, and schedule meetings for later in the day. You can then let your virtual speed networking participants know that, if they meet someone and develop some rapport and mutual interest during that initial five minutes, they can encourage each other to connect profiles and schedule a meeting or later that afternoon.
Imagine meeting someone who just happens to need the exact service that you provide! Do not let that lead go on to the next session without creating a plan to follow-up with them. That follow-up could happen a day or two later outside of the platform of course, but a scheduled meeting that day while the contact is still fresh is ideal.
If the platform you’re using doesn’t support scheduled 1:1 video meetings, and not all do, you could perhaps make use of a lounge area if there are table talks, but that might lack privacy features that certain meetings might require. Simply think through what your attendees may want to be able to do to help move their business forward and give them options. That could be as simple as encouraging attendees to have a Calendly link set up in advance to share with folks they meet!
In fact, that’s probably good advice you can offer attendees in advance of your virtual event regardless, so be sure to include that within the Communication section of your virtual event plan.
Just remember that the purpose of virtual speed networking is to give your attendees every opportunity to connect with other attendees and have space for Magical Moments.
Add this session to your virtual event plan and the start of your next online summit. If you don’t yet have a comprehensive virtual event plan to incorporate speed networking into, that’s your next stop.