As the host, you will be responsible for several things, including considering logistics, scheduling, participant population, and the quality of the engagement.

• Logistics: Easing the Threshold for Participation

Take a step toward a successful cloud meeting by easing the threshold for participation. Do not give people a reason not to attend your event. Technology is everyone’s leverage, not someone’s eventual excuse.

In choosing your technology, consider a free messaging app. Your participants will likely pushback if you ask or even require them to purchase a program or subscription. Also, select a platform-agnostic service. You do not want your attendees to decline because of an incompatible operating system. Lastly, consider ease of use. Your participants should be able to make the most of your chosen service without causing any angst. Messaging apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts are free, easy to use, and compatible with most devices and operating systems.

A few days before the meeting, inform all participants, via an agenda, of any necessary links, passwords, and downloads. Notify them approximately 48 hours in advance if they need to sign up for a certain free service. The host should give ample time to test programs and accounts before the appointed meeting time.

• Participant Population: The Right People in the Right Number

People make a meeting, and the right mix of people makes a meeting successful. In planning your event, consider a healthy mix of individuals. Invite subject matter experts for value-add commenting and input.

You want to make the most of your event, but too many participants can impair the best outcomes. Avoid overcrowding your meeting with excessive amounts of faces. A virtual networking event attended by a select few will feel more intimate and less like a human bazaar if you will. Everyone will have sufficient time to speak, and the connections made in your meeting will hold more relevance and substance. In growing your business network, think quality, not quantity.

Excluding you, your meeting should have no more than seven participants. Allotting time will not be an issue in a group of this size, and your virtual room will not feel cramped. A small group is also easier to manage.

To ease your participants into the meeting, send an introductory email a few days before the event. Include your attendees’ names and add a brief bio or descriptor of everyone. Adding links to your guests’ LinkedIn profiles helps break down the stranger barrier early and personalizes your attendees.

• Scheduling: When to Start and End the Meeting

Your event’s schedule depends entirely on the availability of your participants, so be flexible. Adjust if you must and be ready to compromise. When scheduling your event, remember to consider time zones.

I recommend avoiding long meetings. Staring at your screen for hours can be very tiring. A short session, on the other hand, might feel rushed. Ill-timed meetups engender awkward exchanges and superficial connections. For a group of eight individuals, an hour and a half is more than enough time. Everyone will get their chance to be on the podium, so to speak, while you won’t have to stretch things out or end the meeting prematurely.

Be sure to advise your participants of the meeting time and date and include the duration as well. At meeting time, start your video about two minutes early. Be there to welcome everyone. Start the meeting itself about five minutes after your set time. Allow your guests a few minutes to join and settle in.

• Quality of the Engagement: Making the Meeting Worth It

During the event, help everyone feel at ease. Smile and greet everybody. Make small talk while you wait. When everyone is present and accounted for, start by formally introducing yourself. Describe what you do, and do not be afraid to add some personal “stuff.” (Just not too personal).

After your introduction is complete, ask for a volunteer to go next. Give everyone about two to three minutes each, then move on from introductions to general discussions. To help jumpstart the conversation, prepare a set of questions. Ask each attendee a different question, but do not turn your event into a boring interview. Encourage input. Let everyone else chime in. As always, avoid contentious topics like politics and religion.

As the host, your objective is to keep everyone on topic and in the framework of the conversations. If the conversation strays too far off your chosen questions, you will have to reel in the discussion and watch out for signs of boredom or indifference. You want everyone to participate and have a good time. If you still have time, ask more questions, but do not extend the meeting. End your video conference on time.

• Professional Networking Done Right

Send out an email immediately after your event. Thank your attendees and encourage them to contact one another. Emphasize your willingness to answer any of their questions, and if you are inclined to do so, you can also mention your readiness to organize another virtual meetup.

Whether you attend or organize another event, the important thing is to expand your professional network. Do it as a host or participate as a guest. Of course, you can and will grow your business contacts either way; however, hosting your events can raise your reputation as a leader, organizer, and connector. In addition, you get valuable experience handling people and schedules, all the while expanding your network.