How to host fun and engaging virtual networking events

Thomas Paris
August 18, 2021
How to host fun and engaging virtual networking events

Virtual networking events present an interesting alternative to traditional in-person networking opportunities. With no physical location, you can gather guests from further afield and bring the best people together — no matter where they are.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to plan and host successful virtual networking events. You’ll learn the steps to follow, plus find inspiration for fun virtual networking ideas we love.

How to host a successful virtual networking event

The best virtual networking events don’t happen by accident. A lot of planning, design, and thought goes into them. Let’s take a look at the essential steps to take before, during, and after your virtual networking event.

Before the event

Hosting a great virtual networking event involves a lot of planning, strategy, and preparation. Before the event takes place, here are some areas to focus your attention on.

Set your goals

Your virtual networking event needs a goal if you want to have a way of measuring its success. For some organizations, hosting a virtual networking event is all about being seen as an enabler and supporter within a community. For others, it’s a useful way to position their brand in front of a potential target audience.

Think about what you want your networking session to achieve for your business. Consider whether the goal is to build relationships, introduce a new product or service, or accomplish something else.

Make your goal as specific as possible to help you analyze the event’s success later on. For example, aim to book a follow-up sales call with 5 attendees or to get 10 people to download a resource you promoted during the event.

Design your virtual networking event

Once you know what your goals are for hosting this event, it’s time to get planning. Before you can spread the word about your event you’ll need to plan the format, date and time, and length, and create a rough outline of what you want to cover.

When you design your event, consider your ideal audience and goal, as well as practical considerations like event logistics and budget. Think about whether you want to host a casual get-together over a video conference call for industry professionals, or a speed networking session for those new to your business.

Plan whether you'll use a simple setup or want to allow for a keynote speaker and breakout sessions, and consider what your technical requirements might be for all of this. If you’d like to feature a guest speaker, set up a call with them to make the ask.

If designing an event isn’t part of your skillset, this is an excellent opportunity to bring in a skilled event planner. They’ll be able to turn your ideas into a practical event plan that achieves your goals.

Build your guest list

It’s not a networking event without people, and you’ll want to make sure you have the right people there. Hosting a networking event can feel different to a more exclusive event where you often have a defined guest list and know exactly who to invite. With a networking event, you might need to extend an open invitation beyond your network to attract new faces.

Seek out people who'd be interested in attending your event by reaching out to your network in real life, on Slack channels, and through social media platforms like LinkedIn. Talk about your planned networking event and share a link for people to RSVP if they’re interested. Keep your ideal guest limit in mind, though — for the most intimate networking opportunities, you’ll want to keep your guest list small or offer breakout rooms where people can gather for more intimate conversations outside the main event.

Choose the right virtual event tools

Some virtual networking events work great with a really simple Zoom call, but for others, you’ll want to consider a specialized virtual event platform. These virtual event apps and event technology tools can help you more effectively organize and host a virtual event, and they offer features that improve the user experience too.

Virtual event tools can be useful if you want to add extra functionality to your get-together. With most, you can set up breakout rooms for smaller group conversations or private meetings for speed networking. It’s also easier to host keynote presentations, share links and documents, and allow attendees to share their contact information with others.

Some online networking event tools feature a more visual experience where guests can navigate avatars or game-like characters around a digital space. Not only does this help recreate some of that in-person atmosphere, it’s also a fun way to make your event stand out compared to others.

Prepare your guests

Even though virtual events are hugely popular, not everyone has attended a virtual networking session — and no two are exactly the same. Give your guests a warm welcome and the best chance of enjoying your event by preparing them in advance.

Send a thoughtful pre-event email that outlines how your virtual networking event works. Share where it’s hosted and how to join, and run through any technical requirements.

If there’s a demo of the software, share it so guests can experience the interface before the event. Let your guests know what to expect with an outline or agenda, and share any reading material they might find interesting before the event, especially if your event features a keynote speaker.

This is also a great time to ask your guests about accessibility needs — find out if they’d appreciate some extra support or whether they’ll need to leave the event early. Take this opportunity to build relationships before the event and remove any barriers in the way of a successful virtual networking event.

During the event

A keynote speaker at virtual networking events

When your event day rolls around, you'll play a crucial role in what happens. Here’s what to think about while you’re hosting the event live and how you can make it a great experience for your guests.

Introduce everyone

Most networking events start with an introduction section. This is a really great way for people to get to know each other, as chances are you’ll have new faces. As a host, it’s up to you to facilitate this process and make it as welcoming as possible.

Not everyone is confident when it comes to introducing themselves at online or in-person events. Make this icebreaker moment easier by having fun questions or prompts for your event guests — ask them to share their favorite ice cream flavor or tell the group about one of their big life goals. Keep it light and simple, and create conversation starters that aren't influenced by a guest's title, company, or industry.

Be an active host and moderator

Networking events can feel casual, so it’s tempting to think you can sit back and just be available if someone needs you. The best virtual networking event hosts know this isn’t the case, though — you should be an active host, moderator, and participant.

Be fully present throughout the event and help move the conversations along. If there’s a keynote speaker or your guests are doing mini presentations, ask thoughtful questions that help everyone learn and get involved.

Act as a moderator when conversations get challenging or when someone’s dominating the event and not letting others speak. Remind people of the amount of time remaining, and bring everyone back together before the event ends to round up what’s happened and get people excited about a future gathering.

After the event

The virtual party’s over, but your role doesn’t end there. Here’s what to think about and do to help cement those business relationships and drive future interest after your virtual networking event ends.

Send a thank you email

Your event attendees have just had a great time talking with others, building relationships, and learning something new. They’ve made the experience what it was, so it’s time to follow up with a thoughtful thank you email.

In your thank you email, express your gratitude for their attendance and tell them you hope they had a great experience. Share links to any resources you mentioned during the event, as well as any other places they can stay connected with you — for example, link to a Facebook group, email list, or another online community.

This is also the perfect opportunity to get some valuable feedback. Ask for their thoughts on how the event went, or ask them to share a quick rating or leave a review using a review tool. You could also share a link to a post-event feedback survey, but keep the survey short and sweet if you do.

Promote a future event

Most networking events aren’t a one-time affair, so if you have plans to run future events, now is the ideal time to start promoting them. Use the success of your recent event to help fuel interest and registrations for your next one.

Think about how you can use traditional event marketing tactics to create demand for your virtual meetups. With permission, share recorded snippets from your keynote or industry presentations, and put them together as a highlights reel to encourage people to attend future events. Take screenshots from your fun virtual environment and feature them in your online advertising or social media posts to drum up interest.

Take some of those impressive attendee ratings and reviews you’ve collected and sprinkle them throughout your event marketing. With so many virtual networking events out there, these statistics can help convince people that yours is the one to be at.

5 fun virtual networking event ideas we love

An excited guest of virtual networking events

Sometimes virtual events can feel samey — you rock up to a video conferencing call and people talk about their business, what they do, and how you can help each other out. Give your event guests something to rave about by introducing one of these fun virtual networking event ideas.

1. Invite a VIP speaker

At most networking events you’ll get to hear a little from everyone and discover what they do. Transform your networking event into a miniature seminar by adding a short keynote from an industry expert or thought leader.

Think of this as a networking event and webinar hybrid where your guests get the opportunity to network with not only each other, but an industry expert too. It’s an opportunity to take a mini deep dive into a professional's career journey or the company they run or represent, and it gives attendees a look behind the scenes at their success. Use this keynote to kick off your networking session and give everyone plenty to think about as they get to know others at your live event.

2. Take a mini skills class together

There’s nothing like a shared learning activity as a way to build new connections with the people around you. It gives everyone a shared talking point and is a great way for less confident members of the group to get involved.

At your next networking event, bring in an expert to host a mini skills class for a small group. This could be something creative like a seasonal craft activity, or it could be food-and-drink themed like a mixology or cookie decorating class. You could also keep it work-related and host a lunch and learn based around soft skills like communication, leadership, or sales. Not only does this get people talking, they also get to learn something new in a fun way.

3. Host a virtual happy hour

If making cocktails isn’t your thing but you enjoy a good drink — alcoholic or not — try a virtual happy hour instead. Recreate that face-to-face bar or lounge experience in an online space by getting together for casual conversations and networking over drinks.

Instead of sending drink kits to your guests by mail or asking them to DIY their own, use Hoppier virtual cards. With a Hoppier card, guests can use the balance to order drinks from their favorite local bar, restaurant, or coffee shop. It’s a small but fun way to create a hybrid event experience for your guests.

4. Try speed networking with a personal twist

Most people are familiar with the idea of speed networking. You have a few minutes with each guest to introduce yourselves and talk about what you do. Put a fun twist on your speed networking event by making it more about the person and less about their role.

Introduce prompts that encourage people to share their dreams, talk about their personal highlights, and tell others what they get up to on the weekend. Building your professional network isn’t just about connecting with the right name or face. It’s also about finding people you get on with personally — whether they have similar interests or a different outlook on life entirely. This twist on speed networking helps people do that faster.

5. Theme your event around a hobby or interest

A lot of virtual networking opportunities are either centered on one industry or open to all but with restrictions on how many people can represent one sector. Take a slightly different approach to networking and theme your event around an interest, hobby, or passion instead.

Invite people to join you for a business-focused networking event where they can learn something new and make connections with like-minded individuals. Gather outdoor sports enthusiasts, avid gamers, foodies, or people who are passionate about mindfulness for a themed meetup. This shared interest means that not only can potential business relationships develop, but personal ones too, which could enhance not just someone’s work life but their social time.

Virtual networking event catering made easy

A virtual credit card for catering virtual networking events

In person networking events are easy to cater — you simply show up with some coffee and tea, plus some baked goods or sandwich platters. Catering for virtual events hasn’t always been this easy — until now.

With Hoppier, you can treat your event attendees to drinks and snacks of their choice by sending a virtual card preloaded with a spending balance. It’s a thoughtful way to make their networking event experience feel more like an in-person meetup and give them one less thing to think about when they show up.

Simplify your event logistics

Creating hybrid event experiences for your guests makes the event special, but it requires a lot of planning and logistical support. With Hoppier, you don’t need to worry about customizing treat boxes or baskets, and arranging them to be mailed out — you simply set up an online program, and you’re all set.

A program budget for virtual networking event catering

It’s easy to create a new program, customize your balance, and set start and end dates for redemption. Plus, any unspent funds leftover at the end of the redemption period get returned to you — so there’s more budget for future events. Once you’re ready, send an email to your event guests, and they’ll be able to access the card and spend as they wish — with little support required from your team.

Create a personalized experience for your guests

While receiving an unexpected pre-event package with drinks and snacks can be lovely, it’s hard to get these right for everyone. This means your guests could end up with things they can’t eat or don’t enjoy. Hoppier transforms that experience completely, and they’re free to order takeout or buy ingredients for drinks, snacks, or meals they love.

This kind of personalization and thoughtfulness is a big win for most guests. They’ll appreciate that they don’t have to brew their own coffee ahead of the meetup and that they can instead treat themselves to coffee and a pastry from their favorite local coffee house.

Vendors for catering virtual networking events

Your Hoppier experience is fully customizable. You decide what your guests can spend it on, when they can spend it, and where. You can limit the available vendors to just food and drink options, or keep it open so attendees can pick up a mini wellness or learning-focused treat. Take advantage of fun customization options to brand your digital cards with your company or event colors and logo for a fully branded experience.

Host virtual networking events guests rave about

Virtual networking events are popping up everywhere, and you want to make sure yours is unmissable. Cover all the steps in our guide above to plan your way to success, then consider throwing in one of our fun virtual event ideas to make your meetup even more interesting, engaging, and immersive.

If you want to transform your virtual event into a hybrid experience for your guests, try Hoppier. With our virtual cards, you can treat your event attendees to their favorite coffee, baked goods, snacks, and treats — so they can enjoy while they tune in to your event.

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