3 Ways to Improve Networking in Your Virtual Continuing Education
Updated: Apr. 5, 2021 | Categories: Meetings/Events
Many of your association chapter members have become comfortable with your virtual programming. Even once things “open up,” some will continue to expect the convenience, flexibility and efficiency offered by your virtual events, including being able to connect with other chapters, hear speakers from outside their location and participate in mentorship and education.
We’ve heard from chapters about some of the virtual programming they’d like to continue. For many that will include virtual continuing education (CE). Not only has it been relatively easy to move education programming online, but the virtual aspect expands a chapter’s options, as they can partner with other chapters and utilize speakers from outside of their location without any additional travel costs or the constraints that can accompany in-person education.
At the same time, association chapter boards want to continue to take advantage of the increased opportunities to network virtually.
There are those who find the idea of in-person networking stressful. Does this sound familiar? You’re in the room before an in-person event and see multiple people standing by themselves checking their phones. Allowing time to effectively network before (as well as during and after) a virtual educational event can make connecting easier. If your membership engagement plan includes virtual continuing education, here are three ways to help ensure the networking at your virtual CE events (and your other virtual events), better connects attendees to what they’ll be learning, and to each other.
Open your Zoom 30 minutes before the meeting (and after if there’s time) and give it some structure. As the host, focus the conversation and give everyone a chance to be heard. Have a board member host the Zoom and start with some conversation starters. Ask attendees by name to spend two minutes or so (depending on how many are in the session) introducing themselves with a mix of professional and personal information, such as a favorite hobby or passion. Next, have the host ask each to answer a specific question, like:
- What’s an interesting or fruitful way you’re using your time that’s made an impact on your business/career?
- What are you enjoying most about your job right now, and why?
- What’s something unexpected you’ve learned or done in the past month/year?
Or consider discussing areas related to the CE topic or what’s going on in your industry.
After the meeting, keep the Zoom on so participants can reconnect for a few minutes. Using a moderator, another board member or the speaker, go “around” the Zoom and ask attendees questions to discuss learnings and takeaways.
Plan breakout sessions throughout your virtual CE program. Science shows that people lose focus on a topic after about 10 minutes. Take advantage of that need for change putting attendees into smaller groups to discuss with their peers what they’ve heard; most technologies allow for random assignment into breakout sessions. Keeping breakout rooms to a few people gives allows for more intimate networking, while the group discusses specific topics you provide. If the overall session is small, have the breakout groups report back to the larger group.
Provide networking guidelines. Some may need direction for getting the most out of your networking session. Send an email beforehand with tips for taking an active role. Suggest they come prepared to:
Update their screen name. Depending on the size and intimacy of the group, first names may be enough. If it’s a larger group or a group of individuals who won’t know each other, full names and company names, descriptive titles or other identifiers can be helpful. Not everyone will know how to change their name, so provide directions in the email (and repeat those steps as people log on).
Contribute to the discussion. Provide the Zoom networking questions beforehand. Explain the topic and suggest attendees think about how they can contribute to the open session, the chat and/or the breakout rooms. Ask them to bring additional questions for discussion.
Connect after the meeting. it’s not enough to talk to a person once, virtually or in person, and expect a relationship. Follow-up networking takes initiative, and most relationships are built after that initial introduction. Recommend participants reach out to those they interacted with, through LinkedIn, one-on-one conversations, or in a post session meet up you, the host, set up, to continue brainstorming or sharing ideas.
Virtual education is here to stay. The more you can enhance/expand its purpose and make it a chance for people to network, the better chance they’ll come to your next virtual event, even if it’s not a CE session.