How to Host a Virtual Networking Event Like a Pro
As the founder of the Asian American Entrepreneurs Network and the Diversity Comic Con in New York, Ramon Gil prides himself on being a pro networker. Ramon is a self-described extrovert who loves meeting new people, asking questions, and making new friends.
"One of my favorite quotes is 'the best business relationships are personal,'" he says. "I like to say that business is all about relationships — and another word for relationships is friendships, nothing is better than a helpful friend."
In 2020, he chose the immersive virtual event platform Kumospace (the home of this blog 😉) to host the networking part of the annual Diversity Comic Con online. "We tried it and everybody loved it. Since that time back in October in 2020, I've used it for more networking events, birthday parties, reunions, everything. I've even used it for two memorial services," Ramon says.
As Kumospace is his go-to virtual event platform we decided to ask Ramon his tips for the best ways to use the platform for networking online and his advice for prepping for a networking event. Below he shares what to avoid while networking online, why chemistry is key to successful connections, and the benefits that come with hosting your event online.
I recommend having graphics, or better yet a video of Kumospace, to send out to attendees as a preview of the event so they know what to expect. The reason for that is most people assume that if it's an online event it's going to be on Zoom. And people are really tired of Zoom. So, I make sure they are aware that this is not Zoom. This is something much better, and much more fun. If you don't explain what Kumospace, is I've found that sometimes people blow it off. So if they know it's different and exciting — they are more likely to try it. And once people enter a Kumospace it really sells itself because it's unlike any other video conferencing experience.
I think the biggest benefit is convenience. You don't have to travel to go to the networking event. If you want to dress up, you just have to dress up from the top up. Since it's online, you can also connect with a much bigger variety of people from all over the country and even the world.
The fact that it's autonomous, you can go from group to group or person to person without having to create a breakout room, and it's easy to have private conversations. On Zoom, if you see somebody you know, you can't go over to them and say, 'Hey, how was the weekend with your kids?' Without everyone hearing. But on Kumospace, you can have these private conversations that help create and cultivate relationships. And it's the personal interactions that lets you bond with somebody else, and build that relationship that's the foundation of wanting to work together.
I've seen a lot of giggling and laughing, especially if I design the space to have music at the entrance. Or they discover the virtual drinks feature, which immediately occupies them or sparks conversations.
It's funny, I've had so many people say, 'Oh, I can only stay at the event for 5 minutes' because they think it's going to be like another Zoom session — and then they end up staying in the space for two hours.
One thing I like to do is invite a few people who already know each other, which helps people start mingling. I've discovered this makes the networking event more lively, and people can introduce one another. It's also helpful if you have someone on your event organizing team introducing people.
I think the most simple icebreaker, especially if you're talking about professionals, is to give people a prompt of one or two questions to ask them to find out about other people. Some examples might be: What is something you're looking for? What is something that can help you with your business? What is a qualified customer for you? Depending on the crowd you might want to change it to make it more personal. Other questions I like to have as ice breakers are: Who's your favorite recording artist? Or what's your favorite TV show? Where's the last place you traveled?
Here's another ice breaker I love: How do you know the host? Wrong answers only. So it prompts people to come up with something funny or creative.
For introverts, I tell them to ask questions — everyone likes talking about themselves. It also helps to have a mission. Are you gathering info for your company? Or raising awareness about your nonprofit? If you take the focus off yourself and do it for a higher cause, it can give you that extra courage while networking.
The key thing is to stay curious about other people, and to listen. Remember that you don't have to do all the talking, just ask them questions about what they do.
Find the people who look like they're having a hard time meeting people and give them a job. You can ask, 'Can you do me a favor and show people how to get a virtual drink from the bar?' Or 'Can you give people a tour of where the Kumospace piano is?' People like feeling like they have a purpose, and they usually enjoy the results.
I see a lot of people that forget — or don't — maintain eye contact when they are networking online, especially young people. If you are meeting via video make sure you maintain eye contact with the person you're talking with. It really helps build rapport. Anytime you meet somebody online, you should be maintaining eye contact.
It sounds obvious but I think people often forget: Make sure your background and lighting are good and your internet is stable. I also think one should always dress somewhat appropriately. I don't think you have to be wearing a suit but if it's a business networking event, you shouldn't be wearing a tank top.
Also, whether it's online or offline, follow up with people and stay in touch. I think that's the biggest thing that people forget is that the core of networking is building ongoing relationships. They collect business cards — maybe they'll email them to say 'Hi, it was great meeting you.' And then that's it. Five years later, you need that person to do you a favor, and they don't remember you from Adam.
The key is to stay in touch, whether it's through LinkedIn, or Facebook, or whatever. Maybe it's just commenting, friending, connecting, and sharing the occasional article, or sending them a resource or asking them a simple question.
I think in a virtual networking event, and I'm not sure if this is everybody's cup of tea, but banter and humor is always good. If you joke around and get the other person to laugh, that always sparks a connection. Having said that, one of the things I always tell people, when you're networking, is to find the people you have chemistry with and focus on them. Realistically, you can't have a relationship with everybody you meet at every networking event, but there will often be at least one person who you will find that you have good chemistry with. Make a little extra effort of staying in touch and focusing on that relationship, because working with somebody you have chemistry with is almost like not working, and just having fun together.