The biggest challenge, or let's say it directly: the difficulty of virtual events is networking. Informal and spontaneous conversations are less comfortable than at physical meetings. So how can we network virtually? We have established specific rituals and forms at events to get in touch with each other:
This is not possible at virtual events. Especially if the participants are forced to consume a live stream or a presentation passively or do not even attend the event simultaneously because it is not live, virtual networking becomes impossible. Besides, insufficient server capacity sometimes prevents the upload of video data from all participants. Without the right tools, networking at virtual events will be difficult. So we have to adapt to new ways of doing things if we want to make new contacts and network virtually at online events. Besides adequate technical equipment, the following points are essential for virtual networking:
Topic & moderation:
The more concrete the topic, the more specific the audience and the greater the common grounds, i.e. also the potential for interactions. Professional moderation loosens up the event and structures it. Moderators regularly formulate the purpose of the event, and the participants are encouraged to interact. Well-prepared moderators also know who to connect with each other. For example, they can ask interested people to get together by linking their LinkedIn or Xing profiles.
There should always be a chat function for online presentations or the possibility to follow up and reflect on the presentation in breakout sessions. Surveys can be used to gather opinions. The results of the surveys can, in turn, be made available for discussion. In particular, a chat function allows participants to get involved at a low level and become virtually visible and make contacts.
Virtual events must also establish communication rules. In a video call with many participants, the microphones of the listeners must be muted. Only those who speak switch the microphones on. This avoids interfering noises. Questions and comments can also be placed in the chat function. This is also the new place for an exchange with the "seat neighbors". Here there is now not only the possibility to get in touch with the nearest neighbours, but with the entire group of participants. The potential for finding a relevant contact person is thus multiplied. If a more in-depth conversation arises, it is possible to switch to a private chat.
More is possible virtually than expected; the spatial dissolution of boundaries even creates the potential for many more contacts, with interests and topics playing a more significant role than chance. In this sense, virtual networking is more targeted and efficient if organizers actively support participants in their networking.