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Virtual Networking: How to Really Connect with Prospects at Your Next Online Event

September 22, 2021

When you can't meet in person (and everyone has Zoom-fatigue) the struggle to create a virtual networking experience that doesn’t feel like a waste of time is well, real.

You already know networking is key to driving great business, converting more leads, and leaving attendees with that warm fuzzy feeling — but with virtual networking, it just isn’t the same.

From forgetting to prep speakers on the right kind of lighting and audio to forgetting to do a tech run before the event, there are plenty of traps to fall into — but when you get it right, the results speak for themselves.

Given that networking events are the second most popular type of virtual event, a truly standout networking experience is one of the most (if not THE most) important programming levers for any field marketer who wants to accelerate the pipeline and create more closed-won opps.👌🏾

To help you make the most out of your next virtual networking event, we’ve asked a select group of experts to share their best (and worst 😬) virtual networking experiences. Ready? Let’s go!


How great networking can help convert more leads (+ 12 key metrics to know)

Great networking is about more than simply having a dedicated time and place to relax and unwind with your peers (although that’s important too).

The best networking events create opportunities to have fun, kick back, and help take business out of its usual mundane context.

Done well, a virtual B2B networking event will also help you:

  • Connect your sales teams with high-value leads in a low-pressure environment
  • Build and/or bolster brand awareness among your target audiences
  • Generate more closed-won opportunities

But how do you know if you’re hosting a genuinely value-driven networking experience or just another virtual wine tasting? 

These 12 metrics will help you measure the real impact of your next networking event:

  1. Number of qualified registrations - split between New prospect/ MQL/ SQL/ Customers
  2. Actual attendance numbers - split between New prospect/ MQL/ SQL/ Customers
  3. Direct attribution vs. influenced attribution
  4. Amount of time spent in the networking session
  5. Net new pipeline
  6. Influenced pipeline from the event
  7. Number of sales-attendee 1:1 conversations
  8. Number of direct visits to your website
  9. Number of resource downloads
  10. Number and type of questions asked in live chats
  11. Closed-won opportunities
  12. Closed-won revenue

Remember that ultimately, the metrics you use to gauge your event ROI will vary depending on your attribution model and your specific goals for each event. Take time to plan your KPIs ahead of your event to help make sure the post-event handoff and debriefing goes as smoothly as possible.


The 7 best virtual networking experiences

1. Get low-key creative

Marketing ace Noa Segol knows great networking when she sees it.

As VP Marketing & Strategy at PractiTest, Noa’s used to hosting global events for high value accounts — and she believes the best events focus on creativity.

“Our best virtual networking experience was in our last customer event when we had a scratch artist prepare cartoons of people while they listened to sessions. It was such a fun experience that didn’t require a lot of logistical preparation (in a global event) and resembled the less serious elements of in-person events that were lost in the transition to online,” she explains.

For Noa, knowing virtual networking events were successful comes back to one key factor: attendee feedback.

“We look at attendee feedback as the main factor to track event success, although some of our events are TOFU so I don't expect conversations with them in the short term,” she explains.


2. From swag to singalongs: Get busy with new virtual networking ideas

Hannah Shain, Marketing Director at SmartBug Media, is a self-confessed data-driven, scrappy perfectionist with over 12 years’ marketing experience.

When it comes to virtual networking, Hannah knows what works.

 “The absolute best experience is when you get a box of goodies perfectly timed to arrive at your home right before the event,” she says, “Especially when they make the keynote/opening ceremony of the conference all about an unboxing experience for everyone to do together at home.”

Hannah’s all about creating hands-on experiences that get people moving (and laughing).


3. Make virtual networking personal

If you don’t already know of Lily Styles, it’s time you do.

 As COO at Vin Social, and with 10 years’ event production experience under her belt, Lily Styles is an all-out event marketing superhero.

 When we asked Lily about her top virtual networking events, she jumped straight to the meat of it: engagement and hospitality.

 “The best moments I've experienced in virtual events are hard to pinpoint because there is an intangible energy when everything just clicks,” she explains. “One of our sommeliers, Laura Sudduth, starts her tastings with a visualization journey to the winery and when you see guests close their eyes and follow her there, the smiles that wash over their faces as they are transported, are pure magic.”

 For Lily, it’s making it personal, taking time to craft a storyline, and giving attendees a moment to breathe that really creates the magic.

 “It automatically builds trust and from there the rest just flows. I think it's really easy to let intimacy get lost in the virtual space, but by taking the time to craft a thoughtful storyline, get creative with the presentation of information, and provide an exciting speaker who can bring the subject matter to life, suddenly you can have a real experience instead of just a webinar,” explains Lily.

 And that’s not all. Lily believes that taking time to focus on unconvinced attendees can also boost your energy.

 “Another example of that magic hitting was a whisky tasting we did with our partner Milam and Greene for a repeat client. One of the guests announced to the entire group that he ‘wasn't a whiskey guy’ at the top of the tasting.”

 Not a great start. 🙈

 “I asked him what he preferred, and he admitted he was a beer drinker. I couldn't have planned it if I tried, but my distillery representative that day happened to be their Chief Brewer, Jordan Osborne. Instead of skirting around the lack of enthusiasm about whiskey, Jordan adjusted his approach on the fly and, as a master beer brewer, explained why M&G believes great beer is key to making great whiskey. He met that guest where he was and escorted him from his beer comfort zone into the world of whiskey tasting. While he educated everyone on the event, he helped that one guest to get a new perspective and expand his pallet.”


4. Create a stellar shared experience

Caitlin Tucker, Sr. Director, Experience Marketing at Quantum Metric, has one main goal: to create high-touch, memorable experiences for digital leaders.

With 10+ years’ experience under her marketing belt, it’s clear Caitlin knows a thing or two about what makes a great event.

 “The most successful virtual networking opportunities give people the chance to learn or experience something for the first time together,” she says.

 For Caitlin, that means focusing on fun, hands-on activities that get people laughing.

 “We hosted customers and their kids for a virtual pancake artist class the Friday before Halloween. We shipped each attendee pancake mix, food dye and squeeze bottles so they could follow along and make their own spooky designs. We wore costumes, and everyone had fun showing off their creations to each other via camera,” she explains.

 And it worked.

 “Everyone’s guards were instantly lowered. When you share a new experience together vulnerability is inevitable!” she laughs.

5. Experiment with different event types

Kimberlee Stephens’ marketing experience reads like a trip down the marketing hall of fame: she started off working for marketing great Regis McKenna and went on to work with brands like Google, Adobe, Intel, and Workday, until finally landing as VP of Customer Success at Hushly.

It’s safe to say Kimberlee knows a thing or two about great event marketing then. 😅

 “We've been experimenting here at Hushly with different types of virtual events. The ones that have been best attended, got the best feedback from our customers, and that I enjoyed most, were our Virtual Online Trivia Happy Hour and our User Group meetings — where we have one of our customers share a specific case study (check one of them out here),” she says.

But like any marketing pro, Kimberlee knows the key to growth is looking at how other great marketers do it.

“I always love attending anything that Growth Blazers puts on because the speakers and content is always great and actionable, especially their Executive events with more senior level folks. They always use the latest and greatest technologies as well. I’ve also done an awesome virtual painting event that was super fun,” she says.


6. Focus on engagement

Field marketing ace Cait Law believes great content is about great engagement.  

“If Content is King, Engagement is Queen. Mixology, cooking, and gingerbread house making, have all been great experiential events for us because they were great conversation starters,” she says.

The Event Marketing Sr. Manager at NS1 believes the best virtual networking events should be the start of a solid relationship.

“The best virtual networking experiences are good openers that lead to great conversation,” says Cait.


7. Keep it intimate (and sales free)

With 10+ years marketing experience, Margie Pazdan, Senior Marketing Manager at Zscaler, is a field marketer to watch.

For her, the best virtual networking events are scaled down and sleaze-free.

“The best virtual networking events I've been a part of have been camera-on virtual hospitality events. Small, intimate events with a lead host (typically a 3rd party expert like a sommelier), where guests can invite their significant others and enjoy a 60-90-minute virtual experience with no deep sales deep dives. This allows for everyone to build relationships in a fun format, but also to interact with each other over a common experience, resulting in future 1:1 connections post-event,” she says.

The 7 worst virtual networking experiences (and how to avoid them)

1. Invest in seasoned virtual event platforms

For Noa Segol and the PractiTest team, there’s one virtual networking fail that stands out above the rest: untested tech.

 “The worst networking experience I had occurred when the organizers chose a fancy platform that wasn't tested sufficiently, and it crashed during the event causing a lot of frustration,” says Noa.

 Unfortunately, it’s a story that happens WAY too often.

 💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Invest in a virtual event platform that can prove their worth through killer case studies and reviews.

2. Choose the right tech

It’s not just untested tools that can let your virtual networking event down — all event pros know there are a million and one things that can go wrong.

Hannah Shain and the SmartBug Media team have been there too.

Here are a few examples of tech fails Hannah’s experienced:

 “We had one event where zero attendees stopped by the sponsored ‘meeting room’. I think the idea of hopping on a video with a sales person they'd never met before at a virtual trade show scared everyone off!” she admits.

 💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Choose a virtual event platform that seamlessly (and gently!) pushes attendees from one ‘room’ to another at the end of each session, so even sponsored booths feel like part of the program.

 “We’ve also experienced poorly timed semi-live sessions where the recording stops and a massive delay occurs before you see the presenter live for Q&A. It's super awkward when you realize as a viewer that this is happening — or when the speaker has a different outfit on or a different hairstyle. I’ve even seen a clear weather change from a sunny, tank top kind of day to the middle of winter,” laughs Hannah.

 💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Invest in a virtual event platform that streams like Netflix, and make sure your pre-recorded sessions match the weather/time/lighting/outfits of your live sessions.

 “Another lesson we learned was when we added a webinar registration to LinkedIn to get more leads. Folks that registered there assumed it was a LinkedIn live event and weren’t prepared to log into GoToWebinar. Speaking of LinkedIn Live, too many times I've tried to build up a ton of hype around the events, usually internally to my colleagues and peers — and then without fail, I find it so hard to actually tune in. It seems like you have to catch the notification in your app alerts, or else you can't join,” says Hannah.

 💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Test your attendee journey *before* you kick off!

3. Prepare speakers before the event

Ever been to an event where the speaker is clearly unprepared and only just manages to stumble through?

So has Lily Styles.

“Our company was asked to participate in a virtual event but when we joined the executive who was hosting began asking for changes to be made to the run of show and event format on camera,” she says. “These adjustments continued as the guests entered and his producers responded about the changes in the public chat. I’m not sure if they just didn't have the chance to do a formal tech run with him but it was painful to sit there as the guests were exposed to how the sausage was made.”

Talk about an awkward encounter.

“There has maybe never been a better reminder that dry runs and briefings are essential to maintaining hospitality and storytelling. In-person events do their sound checks prior to guests being let in the door, and virtual events should be no exception! And if all else fails, event professionals, use those DM's!” laughs Lily.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story…

“After sorting out how he'd like the event to run, this executive wanted to hype up the audience before diving into the program. Unfortunately, this meant screaming into his computer like he was a DJ at a nightclub. He seemed to completely forget that everyone's audio was at different levels and that many people were wearing headphones,” Lily cringes. “Energy is great, and I understand his instinct to bring the excitement, but the sound was so jarring that I have truly never wanted to be in an event less.”

💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Prep your speakers on the nuances of virtual before the event. If you need to drop them a reminder during the event, use Direct Messaging or a dedicated Slack channel for organizers-only.


4. Show you know your audience

For Quantum Metric’s Caitlin Tucker, the worst virtual events haven’t done their research.

“The worst experiences don't take people's interests into account. If you can't prove you’re matching me with people who have similar interests, skills or ambitions, I don't see the mutual value and I'm out,” says Caitlin.

💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Analyze attendee insights from previous events to make sure you hit the right note — then gather more data for even better results next time.

5. Keep it tight

Kimberlee Stephens has some simple rules to keep events tight: Keep it short, high energy, smart and funny.

 “I'm not a big fan of traditional webinars, especially those that last longer than 30 minutes,” says Kimberlee. “I've been to some bad events with some bad speakers. I like speakers that are high energy, smart, fast talkers, that inject humor.”

 💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Keep events high-energy with a virtual event platform that allows a mix of live and pre recorded sessions.

6. Streamline your user experience

For NS1’s Cait Law, the worst events are the ones that try to do too much and forget to focus on the user experience.

“The worst virtual experiences I've seen are ones that didn't have a streamlined user experience. Engagement is important but too many options lead to disjointed experiences. Having too many ways to engage is ultimately a blocker to creating those real connections,” she says.

 💡 Pro virtual networking tip: When it comes to engagement, focus on quality over quantity. Choose features that complement your sessions and don’t overdo it. Think: live chat, in-event polls, break-out rooms, etc.

7. Focus on high interaction

Ever found yourself in a sit-and-stare webinar that leaves you desperate to click ‘Leave Meeting’?

So has Margie Pazdan.

“My least favorite virtual experience is one which doesn't allow for networking and interaction amongst attendees. Everyone is craving social interactions so it's important to always incorporate some fun, engaging social activities during virtual events,” she says.

💡 Pro virtual networking tip: Incorporate plenty of interactive networking activities to give attendees (and your sales team) the chance to connect.


Drive real pipeline impact with stellar virtual networking events

Every event marketing pro has good (and bad) stories to tell — it’s all part of earning your stripes.

But as sales teams are struggling more than ever to meet prospects offline, event marketers need to create solid opportunities for sales to do their thing.

That’s why it’s not just the event itself that’s important — it’s how you measure it that counts.

With Goldcast you can track real-time data insights to unlock hidden sales opportunities and drive immediate pipeline impact — all without lifting a finger.

So next time you plan a virtual networking event, choose a format that makes attendees smile, and a tool that helps you win.


Prove your event ROI. Try Goldcast for your next event.

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