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How to create better networking at virtual events

Swapcard co-founder and COO Damien Courbon on how to reimagine networking at digital events.

It has been an intense year at Swapcard. From 2017 onwards, the event platform grew in popularity among event organizers of large-scale events.

When Covid hit, the company adapted its product to serve virtual events and swelled from 40 staff to more than 100 in just three months.

Swapcard is now rapidly expanding into major new territories across the globe, including India, Singapore, Spain, and Italy.

VEI caught up with co-founder and chief operations officer, Damien Courbon, to talk about the sudden digitization of events and how to optimize networking.

Q. How can organizers create effective networking at digital events?

We believe in expanding networking into interactions. For example, if you’re watching a speaker, we do not want you to only sit and listen. Attendees should be able to interact with speakers, other participants, and those who share the same interests.

There should be the option to arrange a one-to-one meeting, give feedback or download key research or data. And these types of interactions should be possible across every facet of an event.

We have seen higher engagement levels on virtual roundtables and smaller groups. Sometimes we open rooms for informal networking. It is easier for people to engage when they are not one-on-one.

If the attendee has a specific goal in mind, it is easier to have a one-to-one meeting. For attendees without clear goals or objectives, it is easier for them to jump into informal conversation rooms.

There is not a perfect recipe for networking.

You need to adapt to the audience and the type of event. You will need various options because there is no one solution to fit all your attendees’ needs.

What about networking between buyers and suppliers?

Networking needs to be done in a smart way. As we see it, everything should be designed to be intuitive and interactive. You cannot expect effort from attendees and exhibitors if the experience isn’t truly seamless for them. Delegates will take part in video calls and meetings, but only if it’s made easy for them.

We believe in video and we don’t like avatars. Avatars can work very well in B2C events but B2B relationships need trust and face-to-face encounters. Video is the closest way to achieve this.

Sometimes we have found that networking is more effective when done indirectly. Some people find it natural, but we have to keep in mind that around half of your audience finds it uncomfortable to have a conversation with someone they don’t know and without context.

You need to create context. This can be done by presenting an attendee with a list of products to view and explore. If they are interested in something, they can then arrange a one-to-one meeting.

Q. Any tips you can share from your own learnings?

When planning a virtual event, you always need to think about what is the next step for attendees. Right before the end of a talk, show your audience options of what they can do next. This might be showing them how to interact with the speaker or book a meeting, or directing them to another talk. You cannot leave your virtual attendee without the next steps – otherwise, you will lose them.

I also really want organizers to be careful with the definition of hybrid events. Some people are wondering how they can deliver the same experience online as in-person. If it’s too tough to manage two experiences at the same time, don’t do it. Create an online experience the day before or after, and create an on-site experience on another day. Don’t replicate the same thing online – it won’t work.

Q. What is your take on the digitization of events?

For a long time, technology was seen as a threat but we believe it can add more value to bigger events. Large gatherings need technology to be truly successful.

For us, events are not about the ability to attend an event online or in-person. An event shouldn’t necessarily be an experience over one or two days. There should be an experience throughout the whole year – sometimes people will interact online and sometimes they will go to events. Both complement one another very well. Something that we really want to help organizers with, and to provide the tools for, is moving from organizing events to managing communities.

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