Ece Kurtaraner is an event marketing and community consultant with Fora Events.
Ece coaches business owners on how to run events that support their business goals—and then turns those goals into reality by planning and managing their events.
With the recent rise of virtual events, we asked Ece to share her top tips for hosting virtual networking events.
When I say 'networking', you might automatically think of a slightly awkward, post-conference vibe where you're forced to make small talk with strangers in a noisy venue.
With that image in mind, it might be tough to imagine how networking—an already awkward activity—can work in a virtual setting!
When networking events are at their best, they help attendees feel connected to and share their struggles with like-minded collaborations. They make everyone feel like they're a part of something bigger, with a renewed passion for what they do.
Luckily, it is possible to make your online networking events even better than physical ones. To get you started, I've created this handy guide for hosting the best possible virtual networking events—and how to make them even more awesome with Butter.
Create a welcome that counts 👋
The first few minutes of your event really do count. A friendly welcome can make all the difference, and definitely helps attendees feel engaged and excited.
Welcomes also give you a chance to explain all the details participants need to know for the event to flow smoothly.
Here are the elements to keep in mind as you lead the welcoming remarks:
- Be structured, but leave space to be flexible: Know what you need to say while still taking the time to respond appropriately and gauge the mood. You may need to make a few jokes to get the tone across or play some music to set the vibe.
- Keep the tone casual and friendly: Speak as if you were chatting with new friends!
- Introduce yourself, but introduce the platform too: Just as you'd point out where facilities are in a real-life event, explain how the digital platform is used. If you’re using Butter, send participants the How to Butter Participant's Guide and give them a chance to test out the sound effects and reaction buttons!
- Set the ground rules: Respect should be at the center of all the interactions that take place at your event. Although it's a business meeting, the focus should be on bonding and learning rather than selling.
Make meaningful introductions 🤝
Everyone has experienced feeling awkward in an introduction. We're all tired of having to come up with a 'fun fact' to share on the spot.
Awkward as they can be, introductions set the scene for important conversations later. It's much easier to approach someone when you know a bit about them than if you know nothing—meaning it's worth investing time in.
How can you make introductions fun in a way that encourages further conversation?
- Make it personal: Don't settle for names and job titles. Instead, ask them questions or opinions that get everyone talking. For example, ask them to share something that made them happy that day, something that's really annoying them, or a fun question like, “If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?”
- Don't wait for people to introduce themselves: Do introductions in a structured way, like asking everyone to nominate the next person, or going in order of upcoming birthdays, or alphabetical name order. If you’re using Butter, you can get everyone to line up with the Queue feature. This helps remove any awkward silences and makes it easy for everyone to have a go!
📕 Related reading: How to create meaningful connections on remote teams.
🧊 Icebreaker inspiration: To add more structure to your introductions, try one of these virtual icebreaker activities.
Structure your agenda to help people focus 📖
Agendas differ so much depending on the event, but you should give some thought and planning into how much time each session will take.
Make sure that you're giving people enough time to discuss and connect without feeling rushed, but not so much time that people lose interest.
With Butter, you can use the Session Planner to set your agenda in advance with timings, activities, and tools for each item, so you can be flexible and focused when in the live session!
Here's an example agenda for inspiration as you consider timings:
- 5 minutes: Welcome and housekeeping
- 15 minutes: Intro time!
- 15 minutes: Breakout rooms #1
- 10 minutes: Discuss and share what came up in the breakouts
- 15 minutes: Breakout rooms #2
- 10 minutes: Summary and closing remarks
💡 Butter tip: For more planning advice, check out our 6 tips for planning the perfect remote workshop, or check out the Agenda page in the Butter Handbook.
Create connections with breakout rooms 🚪
Breakout rooms are your greatest tool for making virtual networking events better than in-person events.
They’re a great way to foster better connections and discussions. Splitting people into small groups is often less intimidating than real events, as you’re creating small, intimate spaces where people can’t look over their shoulders to the other groups—so participants feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts.
It's a good idea to use breakout rooms if you have more than 10 people in your event. Ideally, there should be 3-4 people in each breakout so everyone gets a chance to speak, respond, and be heard.
Using Butter, you can use the Breakouts feature to easily split participants into groups in a few clicks. All you have to do is decide how many people you want in each group, and everyone will be assigned automatically.
Here are the best ways to get people talking in breakouts:
- Give each room a specific prompt to discuss further so they can more easily get chatter flowing.
- Choose a trending topic in your industry and ask people to share their opinions.
- Ask everyone to share a recent business struggle—from time management to delegating!
- Share recommendations—whether it’s books, podcasts, publications, or articles.
Bonus tip: Share the insights that came out of your breakout rooms after the event! Using the Whiteboard or Miro integrations in Butter, you can ask everyone to share all their thoughts and insights from their breakout rooms. After the event, you can share the board link with participants so they can easily remember what happened, and get in touch with others!
Alternatively, Butter’s Notes feature is a good way to keep meeting minutes that are easily shared with everyone after.
Wrap up, but keep the conversation going 🎁
Your networking event should be the first step that leads to more connection. Wrapping up your event effectively is key to making sure those connections last.
Closing out an event well will leave participants wanting to connect more and stay energized about what they've learned.
Here’s how to keep the communication going after your event:
- Encourage participants to share their socials or contact info in the chat.
- Send a thank-you note to all participants with documents from the meeting to keep the information top of mind.
- Ask participants to post on social or to share a screenshot of the event. By using your event hashtag, they can continue to connect with others after the event to keep their conversations going.
Amp up your networking events with Butter
Butter makes it easy to plan, run, and debrief highly engaging sessions—including virtual networking events.
With built-in features like the Agenda, Queue, Breakouts, and plenty of helpful integrations, your online networking events will be smoother than ever.
To make it easier than ever to host your next virtual networking event, try Butter for free.
Or if you’d rather get a walkthrough of Butter from a real-life human being, book a demo!