My Turbulent Love Affair With Digital-Event Networking

I have been a loyal and passionate disciple of networking for all of my adult life. I have spent decades learning, speaking and writing about it. Yet when our world was turned upside down last March, and all meaningful connection with everyone was forced into a digital world, I suddenly felt like I lost my footing and became very unstable.

I learned a lot over the first nine months of the pandemic as I collaborated with clients to design and deliver high-value networking experiences in the digital-only world we were living in. There were some epic fails, but also glorious highs. My footing began to stabilize.

Virtual Networking is Hard

As 2021 dawned, the reality of Zoom fatigue set in. With in-person meetings so far away, I wondered how we could possibly deliver digital-networking experiences that would attract and retain attendees who were burned out from staring at their screens.

Then a ray of hope hit my inbox in late January, when I was invited to apply to be accepted into a new Digital Networking Incubator. It promised to offer a deep dive over a three-month period with a global group of networking enthusiasts and meeting owners tasked with delivering high-value connections in their virtual experiences. I got accepted!

There Is Hope

My experience with the incubator and the lessons learned will be shared with the two creators at our next webinar on May 19, Cracking the Code on Event Networking.

Virtual networking is hard but the incubator gave me hope and promise that it can be meaningful when designed and executed well.

Here are five of my biggest takeaways from my experience as a collaborator with the Digital Networking Incubator.

  1. Connection Before Content. Just as you would stand at the door to greet people who walk into your first-timers orientation, you should put that into practice with your virtual attendees. Making people feel welcomed and seen is critical in the virtual space if you want them to stay with you. 
  1. Create Safe Spaces. At the beginning of every incubator session, we all recited a Golden Rule Haiku that set the tone and created a safe space for our 90-minute gathering:

Golden Rule Haiku

Learn. Share. Try. Be kind.

Support all. Be generous.

Be here with purpose.

  1. Networking Needs Facilitation. Throwing people into a breakout room and expecting that magic networking will occur, will lead to an epic fail. Creating a plan that considers what you want people to think, feel and do as a result of participating and making your directions very clear and concise will yield positive results. 
  1. Leverage Technology. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is so much technological innovation and creativity took flight. Many were introduced at our incubator sessions, where we played with lots of solutions and found free or reasonably-priced ones that would easily integrate into most platforms, and were quite effective at fostering meaningful connections. Experiment and try some out with your team before you take it to your attendees. 
  1. Power in Small Groups. There can be gold in large-scale networking experiences but, by far, the real connections happened when we were in breakouts of five to seven people that were formed by a similar challenge or focus we each identified in advance.

As we begin to design and plan for in-person and hybrid experiences, I hope the lessons learned over the past 15 months will help us rethink our return to ballrooms. We must deliver a strong networking and community-gathering value proposition for our future in-person events in order to drive attendance. Otherwise, why else would anyone show up?

Please join us at our exclusive webinar on May 19, 12:00-1:00 PM EDT to learn more.

What have you learned from your digital events that will take with you as you return to in-person? How are you planning to deliver networking value as you plan for hybrid/in-person events?

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