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After such a long time confined to our own homes and our face to face social interaction limited to members of our own household, the postman and the supermarket cashier, we are craving social activities now more than ever.
The world of meetings and events is moving towards an increasing online presence. Whilst it is easy enough for speakers to present sessions through a virtual conference platform and even for Q&A sessions and panel discussions to be ran virtually, organisers may wonder if their event will be able to have the same social impact as a fully face to face event.
The social aspect of a conference is huge. It’s a chance for delegates to come together over a shared topic. The relationships that are built through collaboration and networking at these events are invaluable and many conference organisers incorporate a social programme complimenting the main learning.
Here are five things that can be done within a virtual programme to allow conference attendees to interact with one another:
1. Hybrid meetings – a hybrid event allows for a small number to meet in person, with the remaining delegation joining remotely. This would allow for a portion of delegates to socialise face to face and could network and even dine in the same way as pre-Covid 19. Think about joining small regional events together to allow delegates to meet locally, with a video link between each event.
2. Message boards – Why confine interaction to only during the conference? Creating message boards which go live a day or two before the event is a great way to get delegates talking beforehand and allows the conversation to continue throughout and even after the event. Creating a few separate boards for different topics or areas of the event may help discussions to flow. Delegates could also be encouraged to share their LinkedIn Profiles or a virtual business card to network with others.
3. Chat rooms – Most venues having lounges or social areas for delegates to come together informally throughout the course of an in-person event, why not create chat lounges for virtual delegates to do the same thing? These could also include slots for speakers to appear at specific times to answer any questions. This could be done through a video call so delegates can see and hear each other in real time, or take the form of a text chat.
4. Utilise break times – Delegates will still need to eat, even during an online event and organisers can use breaks in the programme to allow for delegates to come together. Coffee Catch Ups could be spaced in between sessions and delegates encouraged to join via video chat. Delegates could also be brought together over a ‘Virtual Lunch Table’ – group delegates together as you would when organising a table plan and ask them to dial in together at a certain time. You may want to think about inviting a speaker or board member to each table, and ensure a good mix of delegates in each group.
5. Keep it fun – Virtual events can still be fun! Think of the various elements that may be included in a conference dinner to help delegates to unwind and have fun together and incorporate these into an informal session at the end of the day. This could centre around a fun theme that delegates can get involved with at home. Plan a game or activity such as a virtual quiz or treasure hunt or share some expertise through a cookery, craft or dance demo. The possibilities are endless, from virtual versions of classic board games and online escape rooms to the more creative Murder Mystery Nights or Bake Off Challenges which really gets your delegates involved.
With both event organisers and delegate embracing new ways of communicating, these suggestions can help to ensure your next event brings delegates together until it is safe to meet face to face again.