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What will networking events look like after restrictions lift?

When in-person meetings can go ahead inside, especially larger groups of people being able to mix at, perhaps, a networking event, will we simply go back to where we left off?

Diane Hall



The Northern Affinity network of businesses mentioned in one of their recent virtual events that they are planning a hybrid approach to their networking sessions in June, if restrictions lift as intended. Whilst they are happy to welcome people in person at these events, they plan to also invite virtual attendees to be part of the same meeting.

How this will play out in such as the ‘round table 60-second introductions’ and the approach of working the room is harder to fathom, but I admire their move to be inclusive. For some people, this will be a lifeline, to avoid a long commute into the session. This same solution will allow people from much further afield to join in the Affinity’s events and widen their members’ networks.

I’ve seen a few different polls across Linkedin and other platforms that are trying to gauge how people feel about returning to in-person events in a few months’ time. From my perspective, there seems to be the two extremes responding, with few people undecided or in the middle. For example, there are as many businesspeople who are gagging to physically interact with their peers as there are those who like the current status quo and attending via a screen.

It would be much easier for the organisers to run two separate events, one for each audience. However, as long as any hybrid event is adapted to ensure it feels equally inclusive to its physical attendees as well as its virtual ones, the idea could work really well.

This doesn’t mean that every part of the meeting must be open to both audiences throughout. The benefit of technology is that it’s portable and breakout rooms are easy to apply. Think about the user experience from both of your digital and physical attendees’ perspectives. Some speakers, event elements and/or room layouts may serve physical attendees better, whereas some digital tools can enhance and organise the event better for online participants.

Virtual events company vFairs believes that holding a hybrid event should not be too difficult. ‘Additional considerations do not mean additional budget or resources. It simply means a bit of extra thought needs to go into your event planning and execution. This applies to both the physical event and the virtual event and is especially important when you’re working as a small team or a team of one. There are lots of benefits to hosting hybrid events. Hybrid events offer the best of both virtual and in-person events. The more you integrate the two together, the more mutually beneficial it is for your live and online attendees and sponsors.’

Though June 21 potentially marks the date when all restrictions will lift, Covid will still be with us, and venues may still be bound by maximum capacity numbers. A hybrid approach will not only work well for attendees, it may also solve a ‘how many bodies can attend’ problem in physical spaces and provide a more diverse audience—which fuels the success of many networking events.

Maybe your virtual audience can contribute to statistics/polls. It’s also easier for them to be able to share their thoughts across social media than people in the room. Apportioning something unique and specific to the digital audience can help to compensate for not actually being there and soaking up the atmosphere first-hand.

The pandemic has shown us the possibilities technology offers us. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t take the best bits, the benefits, of virtual networking and use them alongside live experiences to ensure inclusivity, variety and diversity—and also so that any limitations that may have previously been a barrier to attendance at networking events, i.e. the cost of attending/travelling distances and the time spent commuting, are no longer an issue.

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