This post was originally published on Sept. 16, 2020, and it was updated on Dec. 14, 2020.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs who have missed networking events and meeting with people can still find a way to meet with colleagues and make connections, even during COVID-19. Of course, we’re not able to attend the crowded, in-person events that we’re used to, but there are ways to achieve the same effect during what is considered the new normal.
There are both virtual events as well as safe, socially-distanced events that small businesses and organizations can host on their own. Here are a few things to consider if you want to hold a public gathering of any kind.
Will events exist in 2021? In this short video, we spoke with Carolina Villarreal, Founder of Mint Event Design, who unpacks a new perspective for virtual events and event planning in 2021.
Go virtual. Everyone is acquainted with Zoom meetings, and you may even be a little sick of them. But it’s still the safest way to gather large groups of people together at the same time. There are other options if you’re tired of Zoom — Google Hangouts, Skype, Microsoft Teams, even Facebook Live — but Zoom still remains one of the best options.
Increase interactivity. I recently attended a national convention online and discovered that Zoom has the ability to create breakout rooms! Several of us were divided up into smaller rooms, complete with a moderator, and we were able to talk about smaller issues that only pertained to our group. You could hold smaller discussion groups, divide up into breakout sessions, and let people pick and choose the smaller topics that interest them.
You can also use the poll feature of sites like Zoom and GoToWebinar. This helps ensure your audience is still paying attention and gives them something to do other than sitting and staring at the screen, or worse, checking their emails and playing games on their phone.
Have several small meetings. I’ve attended networking meetings in the past where we’d have over 100 people, and I’ve attended special roundtables where only a small handful could attend. It sounds like the latter may be the new normal over the next several months.
You can hold virtual roundtables where the participants sit farther apart, but speak into a microphone. Or you can hold special networking events where people are seated more than six feet apart and masks are required. It lacks the up-close contact and simultaneous conversations found in the typical networking event, but it does allow people to gather.
Be sure to promote your meetings online through Meetup.com, Facebook’s Events, and especially Eventbrite. You can promote free events or require a ticket. Just keep in mind that if you sell tickets, Eventbrite will tack on an extra fee for credit card processing. Still, it’s a convenient way to accept credit cards without setting up your own merchant account.
Just set up your Eventbrite page first and then include the Eventbrite URL on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Meetup notices. If you don’t require tickets, put the event on Eventbrite anyway; you just don’t need to point your other announcements to that page.
Finally, don’t forget to record your meeting, if possible. Zoom allows for recordings, and then you can post them on your different social accounts for people to view later. Post them to YouTube and directly to your Facebook page, and then tweet a link to either location a few times after the event has ended.
Also, don’t forget to stream your meetings to Facebook Live while it’s going on, if you can. Just be sure to read up on it before you try it.
It’s still possible for a small business to hold events during COVID-19, it just takes a little more creativity and tenacity. Whether it’s a virtual event, or even an in-person roundtable with everyone seated more than six feet apart and wearing masks, you can still make your events happen. Just take the proper precautions and keep everyone safe.