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Given the lockdown restrictions imposed across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that virtual business networking events have become so commonplace.
This increase has seen the emergence of a variety of different virtual networking events, each of which aims to facilitate discussion, interaction and engagement within industries.
Virtual networking has its own unique advantages and disadvantages when compared to in-person events. However, whether these new virtual forms of networking will be the future of lead generation in 2021 and beyond is still uncertain.
Here, we’re going to take a look at the different types of virtual business networking events which have been utilised in the past year, explain the pros and cons of virtual business networking, and examine the future of lead generation. Let’s begin.
Virtual business networking: The options available
With lockdown restrictions across the globe necessitating a shift towards virtual interactions for literally billions of people in both professional and personal capacities (Zoom fatigue, anyone?), a considerable increase in virtual events comes as little surprise. In May last year, Forbes reported that virtual events had gone up a staggering 1,000% since the onset of the pandemic.
This surge in virtual events is mirrored in business networking events, as professionals across numerous industries looked to alternative solutions in order to maintain collaborative relationships and the exchange of expert business advice.
This in turn has seen various formats of virtual business networking events trailed and implemented, each with their own strategies and techniques aimed towards driving attendee engagement and replicating the organic interactions of in-person events. Below we’ve put together a list comprising 7 types of business networking events that have become prominent over the last year or so.
This format works by grouping participants across several different breakout groups, as opposed to having all attendees vying for limited speaking time in a larger setting. As well as allowing speakers more time to interact with each other, this format reduces the need for individuals to repeatedly share personal details by way of introduction on a one-to-one basis and has proved effective in encouraging interaction and collaboration.
2. Speed networking
Inspired by the concept of speed-dating (perhaps an example of why social isolation hasn’t been the worst thing in the world…), these events are divided up into a set number of rounds, each lasting for a specific amount of time, 5 minutes each for example. Attendees are then paired up with each other to introduce themselves, converse and exchange industry-specific ideas and information. Once each round finishes attendees are paired up once more and the process begins again.
3. Audio-only discussions
Configured as a direct response to Zoom fatigue (which is definitely a thing, not just an excuse to get out of yet another meeting), audio-only events are a low-cost way to take networking into the virtual sphere. Whilst giving attendees a break from the trials and tribulations of video calls, this format has also proved very effective at building networks across shared interests.
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4. Corporate wine tasting
Even if you haven’t grown tired of Zoom, Microsoft Teams or whatever platform you’re using to conduct your virtual business meetings, there’s still room to spice things up a bit. One great way to do this is with corporate wine tasting. These events are a great way to facilitate easy conversation and make industry contacts, although you might want to reconsider having ‘just one more’ glass if you want to build a successful, long-term relationship!
5. Targeted connections
Using a targeted connections format is a really effective way of bringing together contacts with shared interests. This works by sending out a survey to each of the potential attendees, using the answers they provide to match them with other relevant participants, and then emailing this customised list of people, ideally consisting of 8-10 individuals, with everyone’s details.
6. Interactive games and icebreakers
One really good way to diffuse tension and get conversation flowing is by using interactive games and icebreakers. This format helps take the pressure off of attendees and gets everybody involved in a fun, informal way. Hosts can use games like ‘Tabletop Quiz,’ ‘Two Truths and a Lie,’ ‘Scavenger Hunts’ and ‘Graffiti Wall’ to break the ice and make sure that everyone can relax and have a good time.
7. Birds-of-a-feather session
These sessions use a similar concept to the ‘targeted connections’ events described above, but instead of bringing together attendees based on their answers to survey questions, these events are based on breakout activities based on a shared interest or topic.
So, we’ve been through a whole range of different virtual business network event formats and now you might be wondering if these virtual events will continue to be an effective way of networking even in a post-COVID world? Let’s have a look at some of the tangible benefits hosting networking events virtually can provide:
- Sustainability: hosting an event virtually not only eliminates the waste inevitably generated by an in-person event, but also reduces Co2 emissions as attendees are not required to physically travel to a specific location.
- Enabling data-driven lead tracking: virtual events also facilitate easy and effective data capture, thereby enabling a more data-centric process of lead tracking.
- Cost-effective: virtual events are a cheap solution for business networking, with traditional costs like venue hire, food and drink no longer applicable.
- Removal of real-world barriers: hosting a networking event virtually allows hosts and attendees alike to navigate various real-world barrers, including:
- Time constraints: virtual events aren’t constrained by things like hired venues, so theoretically can go on for much longer than their traditional in-person counterparts.
- Cheaper for attendees: anyone wishing to attend a virtual event doesn’t have to take into consideration the cost and time of travel.
- Greater reach: room capacity doesn’t limit the number of attendees at a virtual event, allowing as many attendees as are interested to attend.
Whilst there are advantages to be gained by hosting a networking event virtually, there are also disadvantages to consider which may see more in-person events make a strong comeback in the future:
- Potential disruption from technical glitches: virtual events are heavily reliant on technology, so even something as simple as a bad WiFi connection can disrupt an entire event for all of its attendees.
- Off-screen distractions: everyone’s been working from home now long enough to know there are distractions everywhere, whether that be pets, children or just background noise. Either way, attendees are less likely to be fully focused virtually than they would be in-person.
- Loss of organic networking possibilities: despite the various virtual formats which can enable interaction and conversation, it’s very difficult to replicate the personal, organic feeling of an in-person conversation through any virtual format.
- Higher attendee fluctuation: participants are far more likely to log off early from a virtual meeting than they are to leave an event they have travelled some distance to attend.
- Time zone issues: while in-person events will see people potentially travel from far and wide to attend, virtual sessions might have to contend with participants wishing to contribute in different time-zones, thereby creating planning issues.
The future of lead generation
As we’ve seen above, virtual business networking events have become hugely popular in recent times, leading to a whole array of new event formats and undoubtedly some improvements on traditional in-person events. Does this mean that virtual networking events are the future of lead generation? Well, kind of, but not exclusively.
Clearly, virtual events are here to stay, given the benefits they offer that is pretty much inevitable — that doesn’t mean however they will replace everything. Networking events look likely to operate with a hybrid approach for the foreseeable future, unlocking the benefits of virtual networking highlighted above whilst maintaining the organic, personal feel of in-person networking wherever possible.
Even with the success virtual business networking events have had, it seems overwhelmingly likely that standard digital marketing strategies, including SEO, PPC, email marketing and in-person events, rather than being replaced, will function within a diversified lead generation approach.
At Gripped, we have the experience and technical expertise to help execute your lead generation strategy in 2021 and beyond, so get in touch today.