How to Make Virtual Event Networking Accessible
Networking is one of the most important pieces of a virtual event. Not only is it one of the primary reasons people attend virtual events, but it is the aspect of virtual events that fosters the greatest sense of community and connection. Unless of course, your virtual event networking features and activities aren’t accessible.
Unfortunately, many event organizers overlook accessibility – even though it is one of the largest benefits and draws for virtual event attendees. There are a few simple changes that you can make to improve the accessibility of your virtual event networking activities. In addition to making your event more accessible, many of these will also create better networking opportunities and experiences to all attendees regardless of their ability status.
To prevent anyone from being left out, take these steps to make your virtual event networking accessible.
Have an Accommodations Coordinator Available
One of the best ways to make sure that your event is accessible is to designate an accessibility contact. An accommodations coordinator can act as the point person for all accessibility questions, requests, and concerns before, during, and after the event. Make sure to include an email for participants to reach out to on the registration page.
The Accommodations Coordinator should check their inbox throughout the duration of the event and be prepared to troubleshoot issues in real time. For large events, it can be helpful to create a shared accommodations inbox so that multiple people can respond quickly throughout the event. Moderators and speakers should also be trained on your virtual event platform’s accessibility features so that they can help provide support as well.
Offer Different Communication Methods
Incorporating different communication methods in your virtual event networking is not only a great way to accommodate different communication preferences, but it also makes your event more accessible!
Like everyone, people with disabilities have their own preferences when it comes to networking. There are also some forms of networking that may be more difficult for people with specific disabilities.
Some people find it especially difficult to comprehend or focus on what others are saying if there is background noise or multiple people speaking at once. This can be managed during event sessions by asking that everyone mute themselves when not speaking and taking questions or comments in an organized manner. It’s a bit more difficult during networking sessions when the purpose is for everyone to talk. Thus, some attendees with disabilities may find that small group video networking sessions are a better fit for them than larger group sessions.
Offering small group and one-on-one networking opportunities is also really helpful in making the event comfortable and inclusive to those with social anxiety. There has been an uptick in the number of people suffering from anxiety due to the prolonged isolation that many people experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Written communication can also be better than verbal communication for many people with disabilities. Integrate some chat-based networking activities so that people have a choice in how they wish to interact.
Use Video Calling Platforms with Live Captions
Planning to host video calls for networking purposes? Make sure that you’re hosting them on accessible platforms.
Live captions provide a readable written record of what is being spoken during video calls – like subtitles during a movie. This makes your video calls more accessible for deaf or hard of hearing attendees.
On Social27 Virtual Event Platform, small group video meetings can be held on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or our very own Social27 Meetup. Each of these platforms supports live captions, so that no one feels left out of the conversation.
Accommodations Coordinators can also work with deaf and hard of hearing attendees to provide a qualified ASL interpreter during video meetings and event sessions. As always, listen to the needs and preferences of your attendees and aim to offer multiple accessibility solutions. Some deaf or hard of hearing attendees may prefer to sign and have an interpreter, others may prefer to read captions and either speak or type their messages in the chat. Each person experiences their disability in different ways, so accessibility is not about finding a one-size-fits-all solution.
Provide Descriptions of Planned Activities
When hosting formal networking activities like happy hours or planned roundtables, let attendees know what they can expect. Is there a theme or an interactive activity planned for your happy hour session?
Knowing what to expect allows attendees to decide if the activity will be suitable for them and prepare for any necessary accommodations. It’s best to know ahead of time and have time to work with the Accessibility Coordinator and session leaders on accommodations rather than encountering unexpected challenges mid-session.
Ideally all of your activities will be able to be modified so that everyone can participate. However, it’s important to allow attendees to make informed decisions on whether to attend so that no one ends up feeling uncomfortable. For example, cocktail hours and mixology lessons are popular post-event networking activities. They can be modified by maxing non-alcoholic drinks, but those with substance use disorders or medical conditions that preclude alcohol consumption might feel uncomfortable or less included when attending such sessions. Some sessions also may include activities that could be overstimulating or stressful to some attendees. Give them a heads up, so that they can request accommodations if needed.
Host an Accessible Event on Social27 Virtual Event Platform
Social27 Virtual Event Platform strives to provide ample networking features and help event owners create experiences that are accessible for all attendees.
Feel free to explore our accessibility features to learn more about this commitment and the platform’s accessibility features.
Set up a demo to learn more about how we prioritize virtual event accessibility.