With virtual networking events becoming the norm, I wanted to share my 5 tips using Zoom’s Communication Platform to maximize connection and ultimately minimize the dreaded virtual fatigue. Hopefully it helps others “breakout” of the traditional webinar format to encourage engagement and meaningful connection among its attendees.

Understand when and when not to use breakout rooms

Like any live event, you wouldn’t have the stage in the lobby unless it was intended. Communication platforms such as Zoom, are no different. Think of the main room as the central meeting place (think of a lobby or stage) while allowing for conversation and networking to happen more organically in the breakout rooms. Consider using the central space to welcome people as they sign on. Even consider, as a few other SMPS members have suggested, if music or welcome slides (great place to add sponsorship logos!) are appropriate. Take time when planning your event to figure out which model works best to achieve the experience or goals you set.

Limit the number of people in breakout rooms if your event is geared towards making genuine connections with others

Anyone remember trying to run into a double dutch jump rope at the playground? If you’re anything like me, an introvert / learned extrovert, talking and networking with others can feel like this. Even a seasoned communication pro may find it hard to know when to jump into the conversation if there are too many people in an online session. It can be awkward when several people chime in at the same time. There is a natural rhythm to conversations where body language helps to guide those participating. In the digital realm where we are stuck in the infamous Brady Bunch set up, seeing too many expressions at once can be overwhelming and confusing. Limiting the number of people in a breakout room (example 4-6 people) helps those in the room a chance to speak and genuinely connect with others while being able to see expressions of others clearly in reasonably sized boxes. If you are unable to reduce the number of people in each room, consider utilizing the “Round Robin” method where participants take turns on a topic or even utilize the raise hand feature if that method doesn’t fit your event’s programming.

Utilize pre-event surveys to attendees to understand their goals for the event

Want attendees to engage with others at the event vs. being a passive viewer? Having attendees identify ahead of time which topics they are most passionate about or which breakout room(s) they’d like to be in prior helps hosts place folks in the rooms where they can engage with those on topics of interest.

Consider having themed or segmented breakout rooms to maximize engagement

If you are coordinated with your event’s programming and platform, you can actually organize your breakout rooms by different segments. For example, in Zoom you can rename or designate the event’s breakout rooms by topic, profession, location, etc. As a host and depending on how big your event is, you can either manually or pre-assign participants into their respective breakout rooms based on live requests, polls or through pre-event surveys. Now with a recent update on Zoom, attendees have the ability to move from one breakout room to the next if the host enables this in the settings. Attendees also have the option to go back into the “lobby” or main Zoom room and wait. Having a central “lobby” gives those chance to mingle with one another until the next breakout session or main event. Which brings me to my last tip..

Consider having a dedicated person to handle the technology logistics and another to moderate / spark conversation

You know the person that can drive a car and not miss a beat in their storyline? That’s not me. I am so focused on driving that I will stop mid-sentence while I stop at a stop sign and scope out the scene for safety, other drivers, pedestrians, bikers (as one should!). My husband and I joke, if we want a quiet car ride – I’ll be the one behind the wheel. Multitasking is known not to produce the best results. Something by default is going to be compromised. I equate this very loosely to virtual sessions. If you are trying to create a smooth experience for attendees, have someone focus solely on moderating and encouraging conversation while another focuses on the technology or troubleshooting because well, Murphy’s Law. Technology is evolving and things can go haywire quickly (new features get released overnight, internet freezes, mic drops, you name it!). Having another moderator (or several depending on the breakout rooms) to help welcome attendees in the main lobby, moderate conversation, or troubleshoot on the fly is a key contributor to a successful event.

What tips do you have utilizing communication platforms? What has worked? What hasn’t? Feel free to email me a cyzaguirre@e2chem.com with your feedback. As a volunteer of SMPS New York’s Technology Taskforce (TTF) Committee, I believe that meaningful connection can happen digitally, it just takes a little more coordination. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you in your next digital networking event so you can maximize connection and build meaningful relationships in today’s remote market. In the meantime, here is “All You Need to Know About Using Zoom Breakout Rooms” https://blog.zoom.us/using-zoom-breakout-rooms/.

Remember as a Marketer, we must stay adaptable. Technology and platform features are always evolving, ever more so today! Keep learning, stay curious, and make meaningful connections with others. Interested in joining the TTF? Email info@smpsny.org or visit https://smpsny.org/get-involved/committees/.