Google calls it Internal Events & Strategy.
At Amazon, you might hear it referred to as Internal Corporate Events.
Similarly, JPMorgan Chase calls it Corporate Events.
Many of the best companies have leveraged their internal events teams to take virtual networking—a way to bring professionals together at the same time in an online remote setting—to the next level. Virtual networking is a great way to connect with new and existing contacts, especially in companies with distributed teams seeking greater connection.
Virtual networking isn’t just useful for large events with unfamiliar faces; if you work in an area of your company that manages in-house events—such as human resources, corporate event planning, or internal events and experiences—you might be responsible for putting together a virtual networking experience for a smaller group of people you work with on a regular basis. This might also apply if you’re planning an internal event for a chamber of commerce, networking association, professional membership organization, or women’s group.
With the right strategies, you can create a memorable virtual networking experience that brings people together, sparks thought-provoking conversations, and gets people excited about keeping their newfound relationships going.
5 steps for creating a great virtual networking event
1. Plan ahead.
If time permits, start planning your virtual event at least two to three months in advance. The more time you have, the easier you will find it to coordinate an engaging experience where people feel excited to interact with one another.
A major cornerstone of the planning process is budget. With virtual events, you don’t have to shell out cash for big-ticket items, such as a venue and meal options. However, virtual networking events still come with several costs, such as giveaways, platform hosting charges, or, if you’re planning to hire a professional speaker to offer insights on a networking or industry topic, guest speaker fees. According to Kaltura, a cloud-based video platform, speaker fees can range from $500 for less experienced speakers to $10,000 or more for industry thought leaders and keynote speakers.
2. Identify the purpose.
Networking may be the outcome of your event, but the purpose is the underlying reason for bringing a group of people together. You are more likely to create a successful virtual networking event if you have a specific purpose.
Here are some examples:
- Helping individuals from different teams collaborate with one another
- Building support for a specific company project or initiative
- Highlighting opportunities for skill-building, professional development, or cross-training
- Exposing current team members to new opportunities within the company
3. Pick a theme
Once you establish the purpose, select a theme—the concept behind your virtual networking event. You can choose any theme that will resonate with your attendees.
Start with these categories to get an idea of what your theme should be:
- Time-based: Consider building your event around the seasons of the year or peak times for the company (think “Fourth Quarter Networking”). Although it might be tempting to do a holiday-themed event, sticking with more inclusive themes can help everyone feel included.
- Aspirational: Breakfast with Bosses? Mingling with Managers? Connecting Cross-functionally? If the purpose of your event is to help people discover new opportunities, reach their career goals, or expand their professional network, an aspirational theme could provide the perfect dose of inspiration for your ambitious attendees.
- On-brand: If you work for a video game company, why not go for a gaming theme? Or, if your company’s claim to fame is health and wellness, create a theme around mindful networking or positive affirmations.
Ultimately, the theme of your virtual networking event dictates the look of your event marketing materials, but it also helps your attendees get into the spirit of the event. Choose wisely!
4. Build a list of attendees.
Who you invite is a big part of building a successful event. Your attendees want to engage with other professionals who can participate in meaningful conversations and add value to their careers.
Start by creating a list of every member of the organization; from there, segment your list based on the purpose of your event. Should the event be open to every internal team member? Would it be beneficial to have interns or volunteers participate? How useful would it be to have senior leaders involved? Think about who you want to bring together and for what purpose, then use that to curate a strong list of attendees who can help make the event a great one.
5. Pick a platform
Virtual networking is a flexible, low-stakes way to pull off a great event. Pick a platform that can provide your attendees with a streamlined experience and is accessible to everyone. For example, if your organization already has a Zoom subscription, use Zoom for the event since it will likely be the most familiar, easy-to-use platform for your attendees. Other platforms to consider for your virtual networking event include:
6. Identify best practices early on
Planning a virtual networking event can present some challenges you’ll want to prepare for. Follow these “do’s and don’ts” to get ahead of potential obstacles and create a seamless virtual networking experience:
DO: Understand your platform.
Whether you are hosting the event or on standby as someone else takes the reins, understand both the possibilities and limitations of the platform you’ve chosen. What are some things your attendees can and cannot do during the event? How many attendees can be in the virtual space at once? What settings should the host enable for attendees beforehand? Knowing these things will help you run a smooth event.
DON’T: Put accessibility on the back burner.
Special accommodations that some platforms offer include closed captioning or live transcription, screen readers, keyboard shortcuts, and high/low contrast modes. Familiarize yourself with these settings prior to the event.
If your company has someone who works in accessibility, consult them before the event or ask them to serve as a resource during the event. If your company does not have someone in this role, create a written guide or screencast to briefly show attendees how to use accessibility settings on the event platform.
DO: Ask good questions throughout the event.
Your attendees will look to you for guidance on how to engage with one another and navigate each part of the event. Guide your attendees’ networking efforts by asking good questions at the start of the event or between each breakout session.
Here are some good questions to ask:
- What is your favorite way to move virtual events offline (e.g., grabbing coffee, meeting at a local conference, or participating in a shared hobby)?
- What is your favorite thing about working at this company?
- What motivated you to attend this event?
- What do you want to do next in your career?
- What is your most urgent project right now?
- What is the main thing that has been on your mind this week?
- How does your current role fit into your ultimate career goal?
Offer a combination of open-ended questions to really get people thinking (and talking)! Between each session, have two to three people share something they've learned about someone else at the event as it relates to these questions.
DON’T: Forget to use engagement tools throughout the session.
Live chat, polling, Q&A functionality, and breakout rooms are all effective ways to take your event from ‘good’ to ‘great’. These tools can also encourage attendees to contribute to the conversation in ways that feel natural for them; for example, while some attendees will enjoy speaking throughout the event, others will feel more comfortable adding comments to the chat. Likewise, breakout rooms are a great way for your attendees to network in smaller groups, providing a more intimate feel, even in a larger online setting.
Communicating your virtual networking event from start to finish
Ahead of the virtual networking event: inviting attendees
To get your attendees excited about the event and boost attendance, you need to make sure your introductory message is clear, brief, and captivating. If you have a least one to two months before the event, send a Save the Date to quickly inform recipients about the event before sending a more detailed, formal invitation later on.
Here’s an example:
SAVE THE DATE! The Corporate Events & Conference Planning Team is excited to announce Bridging the Gap, a virtual networking event for junior, mid, and senior team members on December 1. Mark your calendars for this event, which is aimed at helping team members across levels meet, connect, and discuss opportunities for cross-training throughout the company.
More information will follow, including how you can register and access the itinerary for the event!
If you have one month or less before the event, send the full invite, which should include all the event details and clearly instruct recipients on how to register for the event. For example:
Announcing ‘Bridging the Gap’, a virtual XYZTech company event!
Are you ready to start networking with your fellow XYZers, learn more about what they do at the company, and discover new ways to further your professional interests? If this sounds like you, you won’t want to miss this event!
Date/time: December 1, 11:00 a.m.–1:30 p.m. ET
Location: Employees (whether remote or on-site) can attend this free virtual event via Zoom. Once you register, the Zoom link will be provided 24 hours prior to the event. While the event is open to all XYZTech employees, we only have 50 spots available to ensure we can accommodate all attendees and maximize engagement. Please register as soon as possible!
Schedule: 11:00–11:15 a.m. - Brief intros (All attendees)
11:15–11:40 a.m. - Icebreaker activity
11:40 a.m.–12:05 p.m. - Speed networking / Breakout session 1
12:05–12:15 p.m. - *BREAK*
12:15–12:40 p.m. - Speed networking / Breakout session 2
12:40–1:05 p.m. - Speed networking / Breakout session 3
1:05–1:30 p.m. - “Business card exchange” / Wrap-up
What to expect: Attendees should expect to meet with XYZers across multiple levels, teams, and functions for several enriching networking sessions. The goal is to meet new people, share useful resources, and learn about how XYZ employees can all be of value to one another.
How to prepare: We ask that all attendees come to the event ready to discuss your roles, how you contribute to the organization, and at least one project you are currently working on, preferably one that would benefit from a cross-functional perspective.
Click ‘Register now’ to reserve your spot for this exciting event by November 24! Individuals who require special accommodations to attend this virtual event should complete the accommodations form at the registration link no later than November 17.
After your introduction goes out, make sure you have an organized system for managing all event registrations, responding to correspondence about the event, and keeping up with any deadlines you need to meet before the virtual meetup.
The day of: hosting for your virtual networking event
You will put a lot of time and energy into making your event successful—the day of the virtual meetup is when it all pays off! On the day of the event, send a final reminder including clear instructions on how attendees can log on for the event when the time comes.
Log on at least 20 minutes early to make sure your technology is working properly, cue up any visuals you plan to use, and review the questions you want to ask throughout the event. Then, start welcoming attendees into the virtual space about five minutes before showtime!
As attendees start rolling in, let them know that you’re glad they’ve decided to attend. Their participation is what makes the event worthwhile, so it’s important to show your gratitude.
During the virtual meetup, stick to your plan but maintain some flexibility in case things happen. Potential issues that can arise with virtual events include connectivity problems, technical glitches such as poor sound or video quality, and low attendee engagement. Prepare effectively to prevent these issues, but don’t be afraid to pivot your plan if they occur anyway.
After the event: following up after your virtual networking event
The best virtual experiences don’t end once the event is over; instead, they conclude with a strong follow-up! Following up with your attendees shows that you value what they brought to the event and care about their feedback.
Your follow-up should include a survey to gauge attendee satisfaction and a clear, easy way for your attendees to keep in touch, such as an email listserv or Slack group. The resource you create for keeping your attendees connected should also give them access to content from the event, such as presentations or guides, and enable them to send messages, share hacks and resources, and provide updates long after the event is over.
The final word on virtual networking events
The message is clear: virtual networking events are the way forward!
As companies continue thinking of ways to promote networking with internal teams and build partnerships, virtual events will facilitate those goals in a convenient, cost-effective manner without sacrificing genuine connection.