Despite the seemingly never-ending evolution of this industry, the one thing that hasn’t changed (and most likely never will) is the integral role networking plays in almost all event experiences, regardless of whether they’re in-person, virtual or a combination of the two.
Networking remains one of the most significant benefits of participating in events across the board as according to TechJury, 80% of professionals believe it can help them advance their careers. At the end of the day, it’s an aspect of events that is here to stay.
As hybrid conferences continue to grow in popularity, you must be aware of the best practices to promote successful community networking when you’re dealing with an audience split between digital and in-person environments. Are you ready to dive into some key tips to support organic networking at your association’s next hybrid event?
Let’s do it.
Understand both of your audiences
If your initial inclination is to create a hybrid event that allows both audiences to mingle in order to grow their network, we understand. Why wouldn’t it be better to maximize the opportunities for engagement for all attendees, regardless of how they’re participating?
However, this isn’t actually the case.
In reality, it’s more effective to understand the unique needs of each audience cohort as they are and create separate opportunities to connect for both types of attendee groups based on those needs. Encouraging a virtual and in-person audience to communicate with one another can feel awkward and forced if done incorrectly because, simply put, they often have quite different preferences, capabilities, and behaviors.
Try and allow networking to occur organically by providing each group with enough tailored, user-friendly opportunities to form relationships and connections within their event cohort, whether it’s on-site at your venue or on your digital event platform.
Open your platform early
Although it is crucial not to lump your in-person and digital attendees together as you’re designing the networking opportunities that will run the course of your event dates, remember that, before your event actually begins, both cohorts are in the same playing field.
By opening your digital event platform a week or two before the initial start date for both the virtual and in-person audience, you allow members to skim through the participant list to discover attendees they’re hoping to engage with right off the bat and form connections before the big kick-off. This provides a bird’s eye view of the incoming attendees that will be present at the event while also getting the ball rolling with community engagement early on.
The pre-event dialogue that occurs when you open your digital platform during this crucial period builds a foundation of connection within your community that carries into the event itself.
Implement networking hubs
Organizing networking hubs is a fantastic strategy to help make connecting with others feel less daunting for attendees because they encourage your members to designate time to engage with the event’s greater community. Review42 has noted that 49% of event participants often feel like they do not have enough time to network, so why not offer them an easy way to carve out that time to form new connections?
The best thing about implementing a networking hub into your hybrid event is that they function both virtually and in person! Tailor the design of your networking hubs to the engagement preferences of your attendee cohorts, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box and get creative.
By designating time for your attendees to connect with others in a centralized area in an exciting way, both on-site and on the event platform, you’ll drive the community engagement at your event through the roof, while simultaneously providing a much-appreciated little break from sessions for your guests.
Gamify the networking experience
Adding a gamification element to your event can make networking feel more lighthearted and exciting, and it reduces the sense of pressure on attendees to have a catchy networking “pick up” line. Once attendees get the hang of the gamified aspect of connecting, many of their interactions will more easily develop into organic and casual conversations leading to new potential opportunities.
The gamification feature shouldn’t be an elaborate activity, but a simple challenge that promotes attendees to connect and explore your digital platform or on-site venue. It can be as effortless as giving attendees the task of connecting with as many eventgoers as they can, either in-person or virtually, and using the platform to log those connections.
These four simple techniques can make a world of a difference in your attendee’s confidence and ability to connect with others and network during your event, regardless of how they’re participating.