There are many predictions and opinions about what will happen to conferences and other networking focused events as we emerge from the pandemic. In 2020 we learned that we can have high level content and human to human networking via online platforms. Many people began thinking that networking and learning after the pandemic would be all about Zoom. Many proclaimed that live meetings would never return. Efficiency of not traveling seemed to be what people will desire forever in the future. But is that how it will be? I think not.
While online learning, and even online networking, will always have its place, I predict that meetings will return to much of what we knew before the lockdowns of 2020. Humans have been convening for meetings and community for all of recorded history, and I do not think that 15 months of staring into the eye of a camera to connect will change the need to be together.
Having worked in the meetings business for more than 15 years I know that there is always curiosity about how to change up meetings. People are always seeking disruptive technologies and trying new things. But for something to stick, it needs to be the favored way. I argue that for most, sitting home alone and looking at two dimensional video screens is not our preferred way to engage. When I was younger I was not much of a “hugger”…. but over the past 15 years I have come to see how people connect via a hug. Zoom is great, but they will have trouble replacing hugs. (PS- I like hugs now).
After the pandemic is officially over, and there is no concern about the virus, people will be back looking for how to connect. All opportunities come from people, and those who cultivate stronger relationships will have the advantage over their competitors. This is much like the predictions that nobody would return to offices. And yet we are already seeing companies calling people back to physical locations. Even introverts are happy to be in the office in many cases. People need people and there will be in-person events and if done right, they will thrive.
Networking After the Pandemic
Networking after the pandemic will be just like networking before the pandemic. People will attend in-person events with the desire to connect and create long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships with others in their industries. Meeting planners are saying that they cannot leave the networking to chance, as people are hungry to have shared experiences. This means that how we design meetings will need to change, and the networking portion will need to be enhanced.
I suggest that when planning your in-person conferences you deputize every speaker to talk about the power of human interaction. Ask every speaker to highlight ways the audience can meet and talk about their content after their talk. Each speaker should be asked to stay afterward through a break to meet with people for deep dives on the content. Create a culture for human connection and conversation at every meeting. Make it easy and safe for people to to feel welcomed by the speakers and invite anyone to share opinions.
Networking is more than just trading business cards and establishing a LinkedIn connections. It always has been about more. Yet networking after the pandemic will be more important than ever. Most have countless people they are connected to on social media or in a database, but that does not mean they have real relationships. Learning to create “Uncommon Connections”, where you have an above average understanding, is the key in the current situation.
Meetings and conferences play an important role in bringing people together. It is how initial connections are made. But then what happens? Too often nothing. Great people exchange business cards, and connect on social media, only to have nothing else come of the contact. To create those “uncommon connections” there must be a road map that is lined out in the conference on the how and why. As meetings resume their role and importance in helping people figure out their path to more success, the networking quotient becomes the key. People matter. Networking after the pandemic should not be left to chance. New relationships are already being created. Are your competitors doing more than you?
About Thom Singer
After a successful career in sales and marketing, Thom Singer became a growth leadership speaker in 2009. A decade later he has brought his high energy presentations and action-oriented content to over 900 audiences. Thom knows that as the speaker or master of ceremonies he has a responsibility to set the tone for a strong conference attendee experience. Known as “The Conference Catalyst” he creates an atmosphere of fun and interaction that lasts beyond his presentation.
Thom earned his Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) in 2014 and is committed to the business of meetings. He is the author of 12 books and is the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast. On his show he has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, business leaders and others with a focus on discovering how the most successful people get farther across the gap between potential and results.
At 50 years old Thom decided to reinvent his life and make age 50 to 75 the best years of his life. This meant saying yes to things that scared him, and trying new things. Since that time Thom has jumped off buildings, took up running (and lost 30 lbs) and began performing stand up comedy.