4 Ways to Break the Ice at Your Next Virtual Event
“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue…” – Truman Capote
The great majority of virtual event attendees are very comfortable with networking online and see this as central to the event experience. At the same time, while effective networking at a virtual event is possible (even highly probable), it is not automatic. Specifically, unlike at an in-person event, where bumping into other attendees is natural and organic, facilitating conversations at a virtual event requires attention and planning. The good news is that these steps are not complicated or expensive. But they do require companies to make conversations a priority and to plan proactively.
Let me take you through 4 principles that can be applied to facilitating conversations at your next event.
Four Ways You Can Break the Ice at Your Virtual Event
Use social CRM to bring together like-minded attendees
One of the major benefits of virtual events provide is that they provide comprehensive, timely and integrated attendee data. Unfortunately, in many cases, the use of this data is limited to driving lead generation and not facilitating attendee-to-attendee relationships. This is a shame because social matchmaking represents one of the biggest opportunities that event managers have to provide value to their attendees. For example, event mangers could use implicit profiling to connect users who are in similar industries or professions. Or, they could use explicit profiling to simply ask attendees what kind of people they are interested in meeting at the event. This information can be provided formally (as a list of other attendees to meet) or organically to simulate the process of “bumping into” someone between sessions. Regardless of the exact process used, sometimes the first step to breaking the ice is simply to help visitors to find points of common interest with their fellow attendees. Check out a previous article I wrote regarding event profiling for a deeper look at how CRM can help to facilitate a great virtual event experience.
Leverage game dynamics to get people working together
Game dynamics offer a number of ways to encourage users to interact with one another. One of the simplest examples is to leverage group dynamics to create a sense of community. For example, in order to facilitate cross-group collaboration, an event organizer might build teams with representatives from different functional areas (a marketing person, someone with an engineering background, etc). These teams would then be asked to solve a problem or game that requires the use of each person’s skills. A simpler game dynamic involves rewarding attendees for interacting with other visitors. For example, attendees who facilitate conversations might be rewarded with points that they could redeem for prizes or social recognition (badges, VIP event access, etc.)
Ask attendees to solve problems not just consume information
One of the most important shifts that virtual event managers should try to facilitate is a movement away from passive content consumption and towards active engagement. Not only will this help attendees to retain more information, but it will also help them to build better relationships. As a part of the event planning process, I always encourage my customers to think about the problem that their event is trying to solve. Within this context, attendees can be encouraged to participate in the process of fulfilling the event’s mission, not just consuming content. If the problem is sufficiently complex, it can even be broken into smaller questions or problems that might appeal to special interest groups. Regardless of the specifics, making brainstorming and problem solving a central part of your virtual event can be a great way to get attendees talking.
Assign facilitators to spark conversations and connect visitors
When it comes to facilitating conversations, nothing works better than the human touch. In addition to starting conversations (posting questions, setting up polls, etc.), facilitators can act as a social hub for encouraging networking. In my experience, attendees have absolutely no trouble having conversations online, but getting conversations started sometimes requires proactive intervention. Depending on the size of the event, this role could be played by a single individual or split between several product managers. In either case, it is extremely important that the role of facilitator be formalized so that it is not lost in the hustle and bustle of the event.
Will Your Event Get People Talking?
One of the main reasons that people choose to attend any event (in-person or online) is to network with other attendees. Unlike at an in-person event, facilitating networking online requires a proactive approach. virtual event managers can facilitate conversations in a number of ways. First, they can leverage CRM to bring attendees with similar profiles together. Second, they can use game dynamics to encourage social behavior. Third, companies can use facilitators to start conversations and encourage dialogue. Finally, they can encourage problem solving instead of passive media consumption. Events that follow these 4 simple rules really will get people talking.
Join the conversation. Agree with me? Good. Disagree? Even Better! Tell me why…
What other tools can virtual event managers use to break the ice and facilitate conversations? Are virtual events better at facilitating certain types of social interactions? If so, which ones?
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