June 1, 2021 by Sarah Michel
If you missed our recent webinar on Cracking the Code on Digital Networking, you can watch it on-demand. It is well worth your time to learn from two masters: Amanda Kaiser (pictured, top right) and Arianna Rehak (pictured, bottom), co-founders of the 2021 Virtual Networking Incubator.
We had a lot of ground to cover and didn’t get to all of the questions. I had an opportunity to follow up with Amanda to get them answered. Be sure to check out all the great resources and ideas, with links you can use, below.
Sometimes you ask a question and “hear crickets” in the chat, but don’t worry because there are a few ways to deal with this situation. Participants need a warm up to get their typing fingers nimble and their brains switched to contribute-mode.
I like to start with a chat question that needs only a one-word response. The best way to do this is to ask participants to describe feelings on your topic. For the topic of networking we asked questions like, “what does great networking feel like to you?” Or “when you hear the word networking, what immediately comes to mind?” Early in the session ask easy questions, and make sure participants know there are no wrong answers (because everyone has a different lived experience). Hold your deeply thought-provoking questions for the middle to end of the session. When there is a lag, use that time to repeat the question or even tell a very short, related story.
Long! They were 90 minutes, plus the unofficial start, which made them 95 minutes total. We used a very similar schedule for each gathering. We opened with the unofficial start that lasted 6 to 7 minutes. Then we would transition into whole-group warm-up activities like reading the Golden Rule Haiku together, brainstorming or introducing the topic, and doing a quick tech overview; the warm-up took 10-15 minutes. Then we would move into our main activity usually transitioning into a new platform or into smaller working groups and the main activity took between 45-60 minutes. Finally, we would end with a whole-group debrief exploring together what we learned and what we could take away from the experience.
By the way, unofficial-start activities can also be used as energizers throughout a long session to recapture participants’ attention. We used many fun ideas from Playmeo and We and Me! Also, during the Incubator, we tried out Piccles for whole-group, feel-the- community-style networking. Gatheround (formerly Icebreaker) for 1-to-1 connections. Wonder for virtual reception-style conversations. And Circles for small-group problem-solving collaboration.
There are many creative ways to use the chat with your participants. Asking them to answer a question in the chat BUT not hit send until you tell them to (count 30 seconds or two minutes for questions that demand thoughtful answers) will give people time to think and type which will improve the quality of responses. Also, when they all hit send at the same time, everyone watches pages of comments flood in at once which can reinforce that feeling of community. One way to extend this is to have everyone spend another few minutes (you may want to spin some tunes during this time) reading everyone else’s chat contribution. You could use this activity toward the end of an event to ask them what they learned, or might use, or how they might implement the session ideas at their organization. Your participants will learn from each other and you’ll have the chat transcript as a source of rich data to refer to as well.
Oh man, the word “networking” is such a trigger word!!!! Take a look at the one of the reports from the Incubator where we dove into the good and the bad feelings around networking. Anxiety, awkwardness, fear, imposter syndrome, lonely embarrassment and rejection are just some of the feelings networking events can provoke.
Our advice to you: don’t tell them this is a networking event. Instead focus on the purpose of the event or the outcome. Here are some of the benefits people get from networking:
Early in your event planning decide what the goal is. Will you help them solve a problem, and what problem is it? Or do you plan on introducing students to professionals? Whatever the goal of the networking event is, use that goal to inform your schedule, activity, platform selection, as well as the way you name and market the event.
We hope you got lots of new ideas and strategies you can immediately put to use as you think about the design and facilitation of your next digital community experience. Thank you to Amanda and Arianna for sharing your brilliance with us!
What is one new idea or intervention you plan to try at your next digital networking or community gathering? What is your biggest challenge when it comes to designing and delivering networking value at your events?
Filed Under: Conference Networking, Hybrid & Virtual, Speaker Coaching
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