How to Network at Digital Conferences and Virtual Events

Peter Curac-Dahl

How to Network at Digital Conferences and Virtual Events

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed many constraints on our lives. Most widely affected are any activities involving multiple people gathering in one place. We’re seeing schools, offices, movie theaters, restaurants, and the like shut down or heavily adapting their mode of operation. So it’s no surprise that some of the biggest technology conferences in the world are exchanging conference centers for video conference platforms.

While CES goes all-digital, other events: Mobile World Congress, and Facebook Global Marketing Summit have been canceled altogether.

These events are focused around technology showcasing but the massive potential for networking is impossible to ignore. Thousands of people working in connected industries creates a kind of “fish in a barrel” effect—a sort of haven for face to face networking. With conferences going virtual, how will networking opportunities be affected? We plan to explore this question and offer a few solutions.

Adapting your networking efforts

Just buying tickets and showing up to a conference hoping to run into the right people has become less and less effective as these events continue to grow. The space alone that you would need to cover at an event like CES would prove impossible.
CES, spanning multiple buildings and floors, is not the type of event you want to go into without a plan. Image source.

Event organizers combat this issue by creating their own “meeting platforms” where attendees can create profiles for their businesses and book meetings with each other before stepping foot in the conference center. This is a great way to find potentially valuable connections and make the first touch in advance. But as a tool design to facilitate fruitful conversations in-person, it falls short of being a pandemic proof solution.

The above mentioned meet up platforms may still prove useful. Most likely we’ll see a shift from organizing meetings that take place in-person to scheduling video calls. But you don’t have to rely on this tool solely.

Start networking before the event

Most organizers won't offer you an attendee list, and third party lists are usually inaccurate and outdated (not worth the money in short). However, this is a way around this for the persistent among us. Media monitoring tools such as Brand24 will keep tabs on everything happening on social media and several other sources and alert you when topics you monitor are mentioned.

Most companies will be rolling out their social media announcements about attending events far in advance. This is your opportunity to contact compatible businesses before they even begin using the event’s meet up platforms. Regardless of who you’re looking for, investors, customers, collaborators, this is a great way to get an early start on building your list of potential contacts. With a tool like this in your arsenal, you take a lot of the legwork out of finding out who’s attending an event and getting ahead of the line.

brand24GIFBrand24 lets you know who’s talking about an event, you just have to make the connection.

The good news is that with video conferencing (Zoom, Skype, etc.) being the new norm you’ll find it easier to schedule calls with prospects. As long as you do your homework and you know who to contact, they should be accustomed to managing these calls by now.

Planning your own online event 

With lots of third-party tech available for supporting your own virtual events it’s an exciting time to dive in. 

The Guild messaging application isn’t designed specifically for events but can be used to support communication between attendees as well as the hosts.The team at Guild has also created CREO (Coronavirus Response for Event Organisers), a support group for anyone aspiring to create online events. In the first 24 hours of conception, the group had already gained 100 members and continues to grow.;

Cta image

The CREO manual is their brainchild; an in-depth resource for anyone planning on taking their event to the web. Within this (refreshingly thorough) document readers will find information on a variety of topics including

  • PR Crisis management
  • Tech for virtual conferences, webinars, networking, etc.
  • Insurance & Legal
  • Health & Safety

Among some 60+ technologies recommended you can spot some familiar (inter)faces like Zoom, Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts— “The Usual Suspects” of communicators. In the shadows of these tech goliaths, however, you will find some real gems worthy of looking into. Among the sprawling list are Jitsi Meet, and Remo, two video conferencing tools ready to take on event-level loads.

jitsi-meetJitsi meet is secure and simple. No software downloads required. Source

In the past, we wrote about Jitsi being a great open source alternative for more popular teleconferencing tools, and more specifically a great way to implement a video communication feature into your project. But now we see them in a new light: a fully encrypted, free to use, open source event hosting solution only limited by the amount of bandwidth you provide.


Remo's UI almost looks a mini-game you'd get addicted to, but it's all business. Source

Remo’s out of the box features make it a great tool for running conferences. Zero transaction fee payment services for selling tickets, virtual business cards, Q&A, and voting features go to show that it was created specifically for handling networking events.

Are virtual events the future?

The need to go digital due to COVID-19 is obvious, but whether or not this is the future of events remains unclear. Organizers are already telling us to look forward to 2021/22 events that are planned to return to their regular mass-scale mode of operation.

  • “Please save the date for the 2021 conference which will take place from March 14-18, 2021 in Las Vegas.” Adobe
  • “We plan to return to Las Vegas for CES 2022, combining the best elements of a physical and digital show.” CES

With no data to bolster these claims, it’s hard to believe organizers have a better grasp of the COVID-19 situation than health organizations around the world. It seems early in the game to be calling for a return to normality by next year, but hey—here’s to positivity.

It’s hard to predict how attendance will be affected by this change to virtual events. On the one hand, yes there is something underwhelming about witnessing the release of top of the line display technology via video stream on your 3-year-old Macbook. But on the other hand, when we consider the newly lowered barrier of entry to such events you have to consider a possible leveling out of sorts. Until the situation normalizes, vendors used to thriving at such events are feeling the impact.

Two thirds of those who exhibit at business events reported their cancellation has had a notable detrimental impact on their business, reducing their ability to build brand awareness with their target markets. Half of businesses expressed this impact as being "very large". —

Some of the flashiness and magic (Vegas baby!) will be taken out of the events to be sure, but virtual events bring accessibility to an all-time high. If you’ve been to an event, representing a company or not, you know the logistical and financial cost. Tickets are not cheap, then you need to tack on airfare, accommodation, booth fees, transportation, etc. Virtual events may open the doors for small and medium businesses that in the past could not justify such an expense.

Hoping for the best

Fingers crossed for getting back to business as usual. When we do get there it’s safe to say some of the more beneficial aspects of virtual conferences will be carried ongoing into the future as a way to improve events. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how this adaptation works for events and how conferencing technology will deal with the enormous strain. Good luck to all you networking wizards and witches out there in this season of stay at home conferences!

Peter Curac-Dahl avatar
Peter Curac-Dahl