How to Make the Most Out of Your ONA21 Virtual Experience

ONA wants to help you achieve your exhibiting and sponsor goals at ONA21. This guide, complemented by this recorded webinar held June 7, will help you make a plan for a successful virtual Midway exhibiting experience.

We know that for some of you this is the first — or perhaps one of the first — virtual events you have exhibited/recruited or otherwise used as a business development tool. We are here to help, and have invested in a platform to help you reach our audience in this environment.

What virtual exhibiting at ONA21 is like:

This guide will help you think through the different steps:

What’s your ONA21 goal?     |     What’s your pitch?     |     What’s your initial ask?
What to do with the attendee list     |     Using other connection points
Attending sessions and events     |     Social media for connecting and promoting

What’s your ONA21 goal?

There was a reason (hopefully, many) that your company/organization decided to support ONA21. As you think about the week of ONA21, how do you see that reason playing out? Is there a specific audience you hope to reach? What do you want that audience to walk away knowing or doing? Consider these questions as a starting point for finding your ONA21 goal(s), and share this with your colleagues.

What’s your pitch?

Once you know your goals, craft a message around them. Have a pitch ready to go — one that is flexible enough so you can tailor it to a person or situation. Need help on finding ways to make your pitch relevant to the ONA community? Email Hanaa at or schedule a time to chat.

What’s your initial ask?

Craft a tailorable ask that talks about the other party as much as it does about  yourself. Here are a few templates to consider:

Hi [name] —

  • I saw that you/your company does [this thing that relates to what I want to talk about] and am interested in learning more. I/my company does [this thing that relates to you], and I think there could be an opportunity [for collaboration, for us to learn from one another, to create efficiencies, to do this other thing that is a gentle nudge towards a pitch].
  • As we are both [name the connection: related to this person, in this community, in this field, etc. ], I wanted to reach out to you before ONA21. I [do this thing], and because you [do that thing], it would be great if we could find a time to talk about [the thing that connects the two previous things].
  • We attended [session name] earlier, and I noticed that you were asking about [this topic that relates to me]. I wanted to reach out to you [with this additional information that directly relates OR because what you do relates to that question] and would love to share more as well as learn about [what you/your company do/does, something shared by that attendee in that chat]. Do you have time for a meeting this week?
  • I learned [through Grip/social platform/etc.] that you are interested in [this interest area that relates to me] and wanted to invite you to our session [that relates directly to that interest area] on [this day and time]. We’re going to be talking about [list up to three points that directly relate to that interest area]. If you have any questions or if you can’t make it, happy to talk with you about [this interest area] anytime.
  • I learned [through Grip/social platform/etc.] that you are interested in [this interest area that relates to me] and wanted to invite you to check out our virtual booth space where we have a video about [a topic that directly relates to that interest area]. Would you have time to talk this week?

If you are communicating with a fellow attendee after Grip opens on June 14, then you can invite them to schedule the meeting in Grip. If it is before Grip opens, consider offering some general times during June 21-25 when you’ll be available to meet outside of the session schedule — this is also a good opportunity to use a mutual scheduling tool such as Calendly.

Study the attendee list

  • Who do you know? Who would you like to meet? Start reaching out to folks.
    • Prior to June 14:
      • “I don’t have their email!” See what kinds of connections you already have. Who do you know in common?
      • Use social media, especially LinkedIn.
      • When writing that introductory message, use ONA21 as your connector (if you don’t have a more personal connection, e.g., a colleague or friend in common). Personalization is much better than sending a form email. More tips for crafting your initial ask here.
    • After Grip opens for attendees on June 14
      • Use the list you already created to continue connecting with people.
      • Use the filters available in the attendee search (such as work role and interest area) to help discover others who might be in your target audience.

Consider other connection points

Connect with your existing audience through social media, email lists, and other relevant paths.

  • Use ONA21 to promote yourself on social media and to your existing email list.
  • Promote your participation at ONA21, share your direct link to you page in Grip, promote your programming or demo video, if applicable

Attending sessions and events

  • Attend sessions that are relevant to your part of the industry and engage the audience (and speakers) in the chat with relevant questions and comments.
    • Relevant is key! If you go into the chat trying to sell your product, you will turn attendees off of your company.
    • If what you do is relevant to the session, be mindful not to dominate the conversation. Inviting people to connect on Grip is a great way to build connections outside of the session.
  • Attend other events throughout the conference that are not directly relevant to you.
    • ONA21 will include networking events, featured sessions, video chat rooms and social events.
    • Your role when taking part in broader programming opportunities is more akin to attending social events at an in-person conference. By putting yourself out there, you create the possibility of an unexpected connection.
  • Take note of who else is in the conversation whose interests align with your goals at ONA21. Find those people on Grip and create connections.
    • Don’t just take note of their names, but also about what they might have shared or asked. If it makes sense, reference those in your initial conversation. Examples:
      • I was also at the [name] session earlier and thought your comment about [this topic] was [insightful because . . ., helpful because . . ., etc.]. I do [this thing that relates to their comment or the overall the session topic] and would love to talk more with you. Do you have time this week to meet up here?
      • I was also at the [name] session earlier and saw that you were asking about [this topic]. I do [this thing that relates to their comment or the overall the session topic] and would love to talk more with you. Do you have time this week to meet up here?
      • I was also at the [name] session earlier and saw that you are interested in [this related topic that also ties into what you do], so I wanted to share [this piece of information, product, company that directly relates to that topic]. Do you have time this week to meet up to discuss?

Social media for connecting and promoting

  • Follow @ONAconf on Twitter, @online_news on Instagram, and Online News Association on LinkedIn. Join the ONA21 group on Facebook.
    • Interact with these accounts and their followers in relevant ways.
  • If you have events on the agenda, promote them use the (often-trending) #ONA21 hashtag.
  • Use easy to understand descriptions of your company or product along with your direct link on Grip to attract attendees and help them easily find you. Examples:
    • Not seeing the results you want from your newsletter? We have proven ideas that have helped increase open rates by 50% within 6 months. Come talk to us in the #ONA21 Midway: [link]
    • Repurpose stories already on your site to reach new audiences — and add new revenue paths! Let’s talk about how to work smarter in the #ONA21 Midway: [link]
  • Are there sessions in the general conference that apply to the work you do? Be sure to tweet around it to target audience members interested in that topic area.
  • You can create easy, attractive graphics for your social posts on Canva. Finding a fun gif that works with your post is always appreciated, too!


Follow-up with everyone within the first week after ONA21 while everything is fresh.

  • You can download a .csv of all of the individuals with whom you connected on Grip. Additionally, your team can download a comprehensive .csv of your team members connected with over the week.
  • Even if it doesn’t feel like there’s an immediate ask, reach out to say it was great to meet or reconnect.
  • Don’t forget to report back to your community about the great success you had at the event!

To make sure exhibitors feel confident and ready to use Grip at ONA21, ONA hosted a recorded webinar going over these best practices and more on June 7. If you’d like to briefly discuss your strategy, please email Hanaa at or schedule a time to chat.