10 Ways to Make Networking More Successful in Online Events

By Jonathan McCallum, VP & CSO—GPJ United Kingdom

For centuries the process of ‘the sale’ has been facilitated by the power of a face-to-face moment. It’s proved a lot harder in a ‘virtual,’ or online environment. Here are 10 ways which may help redress the balance.

An exit strategy, or process, is a founding principle to contracts, whether that be a flat let, a lease of a car, or even your Netflix contract. 

They are fundamental at in-person live events too, for example, by clearly marking an exit in case of an emergency. It’s not because we want people to leave, it’s so that people know they can, easily, or clearly. The point being it creates an atmosphere of reassurance and commitment. Either consciously or unconsciously. Creating the headspace to focus on more important things. 

Imagine sitting on a plane, not just currently, I mean under normal conditions, with the seat belt lights on, the engines fired up and you begin to rumble down the runway, the air cabin crew shouts over the tannoy – “meh, exits? When do we ever use those?” A sudden anxious feeling ensues.

Communicating the facilitation and reassurance of an exit can help retention within a networking environment.

Other principles for success are ones beloved by every planner and strategist from cravat wearing ranconteurs to performance focused Knights of the Realm. Nudge Theory, making small shifts in behaviour and Marginal Gains, positively compounding small improvements.

The following list is not exhaustive. But following the guidance of the principles above here are ten ways which are sure to contribute towards the success of your networking and sales conversion efforts:

  1. The Approved Departure  A simple nudge. Rather than the blunt, ‘Jon Smith has left the meeting,’ the wording is changed to a more appropriate and sensitive ‘Thank you, an interesting session, unfortunately I have to leave early. Please do follow up.’ Or words to that effect. Communicated in advance as part of joining instructions it negates a barrier.
  2. The Lobby – Include a concierge-style chat function in the sessions lobby. Allow attendees to ask questions, advice on sessions as they are about to start, to alleviate any last minute reservations. Also use the format to guide matchmaking of prospects and partner opportunities.
  3. The Window Shopper – Being able to have an ‘external’ view to a session, or discussion is an enabler. It allows people to assess the content before joining. You can watch the stream, or view the discussion before joining. As an added effect, live curated pop-up banners which ‘sell’ the content, for example ‘X is discussing how be more effective in the deployment of Y. Overall this approach helps address a behaviour often seen at in-person events. At smaller in-exhibition talks and sessions have you noticed a phenomena where seats in the session are near empty, but you can’t move in the standing room around the edge? People don’t like to commit = exit strategy.
  4. The Fishbowl – A similar approach to the ‘window shopper’, but you immediately join as a viewer. A small moderated group leads the on-camera discussion; you join as an off-camera observer. If you want to join the discussion simply submit a question and the moderator can invite you into the discussion at that moment. 
  5. The Clubhouse – Pioneered by the Clubhouse app, hence the credit. An audio-only version of the fishbowl. This could be a ‘that was so last week’ statement by the time anyone reads this, but it seems Clubhouse and their approach is the next big thing for networking and community.
  6. The Follow Up – Another simple nudge. As part of joining instructions, communicate that if you need to leave early there is a ‘leave with a follow up button.’ Allowing you to plan an exit knowing that you have the option of registering to speak with a representative, or receive further information.
  7. The Invited Guest – Key prospects are invited and accompanied to a session, providing them with exclusive post-session access to the speakers/experts.
  8. The Host – Another combination of approaches, except in this method, you allow attendees to nominate a topic, or question for discussion, which they host in their ‘own’ room. A moderator facilitates the room and can match and make recommendations for people to connect based on joining profiles. Similar to an in-person event ‘Braindate.’ 
  9. The Bonus Session – Reward attendees who attend a set number of targeted sessions with exclusive access to a ‘non-advertised’ session. The potential of the session is promoted, but the content isn’t until you start the journey to qualify. Part gamification, part differentiation. Exclusivity and scarcity are powerful tools to deploy. 
  10. The phone call – I did one the other day. I’d forgotten how productive they are. No thinking about, ‘do I wave at the end or not’? ‘Is it just me that’s pixelated’? Etc. Balance is key, give people options, provide a call back function within the experience.

Overall, my advice is never forget about the core tenets of human behaviour. 

It may not be possible to recreate the exact same experience online. That’s okay, focus on the things you can control and create the best results for the environment you’re using. 

Don’t try and recreate the elements of an in-person event online that will just not be effective. Recognise and respect the differences.

It’s Hybrid next. I hope your audience segmentation and profiling is up to scratch.