In-person events have always been a central way to create meaningful connections between people. Meeting new or long-lost industry colleagues and sharing updates about work projects allows event attendees to recognize parallels between seemingly disparate projects, which forges new associations that bring about creative insights.
Think about how many people advance in their careers through a chance encounter, an overheard conversation, or an unexpected question to which they were exposed to a unique answer?
In a nutshell, such fortunate situations are known as “serendipity.”
Businesspeople need serendipity. However, when the pandemic first sent event planners to the virtual medium, many struggled to provide those serendipitous moments to attendees, diminishing the event experience.
Though it seems paradoxical, event planners can create serendipity by intentionally designing opportunities for virtual attendees to interact with unexpected people, ideas, or businesses.
Cultivating Serendipity Virtually
Even when events take place online, attendees expect at least some opportunities to network. Streaming content to online audiences from the physical venue while providing opportunities to interact via live chat, polling software, and Q&A software is one way to connect and engage diverse audiences. But when the livestream ends, then what?
Here are seven ideas that can help create serendipitous moments for your attendees:
- Create structured, brief virtual-networking sessions. Think of these as “speed dating” among participants, giving them a chance to connect for a few minutes with multiple people they might not otherwise have met. Then provide other opportunities within your platform for those who hit it off to reconnect later in the event.
- Help attendees find relevant meet-ups by employing your virtual platform as a matchmaking service. It should include filters such as company type, job title, work and personal interests, job challenges, job titles, and others, which provide useful context and enable participants to search the attendee list more quickly and fruitfully.
- Incorporate virtual breakout mini-meetings into at least some sessions. For example, every 20 minutes, place six people at each virtual “table” to discuss the session’s content up to that point, and after six to eight minutes, resume the full session.
- Connect audiences by providing one central online “lounge.” Make it accessible at all times during the event to attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors.
- Allow sufficient transition time between session tracks. We all need breaks—and virtual participants in particular might forget to take a moment to stretch their legs, refill their water bottle, or even look away from the monitor. This built-in buffer provides opportunity for them to do that, but also engage in conversation in your online lounges without feeling they’re missing out on something else.
- Don’t close the virtual doors once the event finishes. Even after the sessions conclude, there’s potential for participants to keep connecting. Use your virtual platform to offer structured networking for a few days after the event wraps up.
- Ask attendees to tell you their most serendipitous moment from the event and the idea or lesson they gained from it. The planning team can use these in post-event communications as both educational content and success stories.
Serendipity at meetings turns vague ideas into real achievements by creating social support not just at an event but afterwards as well. Creativity isn’t the exclusive territory of solitary geniuses; serendipitous encounters develop creative potential.
Devin Cleary, vice president of global events at Bizzabo, is an event producer and marketing executive with more than 16 years of experience in the creation and management of diverse experiential marketing programs for B2B, nonprofit, and consumer markets.