4 Best Practices for Facilitating Networking in a Hybrid Environment
How to make sure technology enhances your meeting’s reach and experience.
Attendees overwhelmingly cite networking opportunities as a key reason to attend events. This remains true today, but the infrastructure to facilitate networking has fundamentally expanded as we move forward from the pandemic and the radical shifts it triggered.
While technology capable of connecting people may once have seemed like a threat to live events, industry pros have realized that it can facilitate networking across a broader swath of participants—and supports organizations’ bottom lines in the process.
“People now know that the hybrid component enhances meetings and brings in more people, partners, and presenters,” explains Nick Smith, president of Greater Phoenix-based technology and audiovisual supplier AV Concepts. “They’re going after a whole new client base that they never thought they could reach before.”
As meeting planners continue to embrace and improve the value of hybrid environments, here are four best practices for facilitating networking opportunities among geographically separated audiences.
1. Emphasize Engagement and Interaction
When virtual attendees sit at their screens and watch speeches without interaction, it’s a missed opportunity for networking. Facilitating an exchange between attendees and presenters provides valuable interaction and engagement among those not in the physical room.
“It’s like watching TV—if it’s not exciting, I walk away within 30 minutes,” Smith says. “Make sure that the content is engaging, that it speaks to the audience. Whether it’s gamification or polling—use something that involves participation versus just watching.”
2. Translate Data into Networking Opportunities
The rapid push to digital during the pandemic now allows producers to capture more data than ever before—and this data is essential for understanding attendees’ needs and demographics. Use it to connect them with like-minded people and content.
“One of the best technology tools we have is our ability to manage the metrics, do the analytics and understand what happens with viewers by measuring the interaction going on with events,” Smith says. “We can see how many people log in; we can see how long they’re there. We can see where they’re focusing their attention. And those metrics have been the best thing to help reimagine events for maximum value.”
3. Focus on the Fundamentals
Ever tried to network virtually with a spotty internet connection? It’s either frustrating or just plain impossible. So planners must focus on the fundamentals first to ensure a smooth experience.
“The biggest thing is making sure that you have secure and consistent content delivery, and then you’re managing those networks and monitoring the quality of service,” Smith says. “That wasn’t as important before. Your ultimate goal is to provide a great experience.”
Production quality matters, too. “If it looks like a cheap Zoom call, people will feel like it’s a waste of their time. Put production value into the video, the content, the rehearsals,” Smith adds. “If the meeting is poorly lit, the connection is weak, and the quality is bad, they’re not going to spend time with it like they would if it was properly produced.”
4. Understand the Limits of Technology for Networking
Industry professionals and attendees now recognize both the concept and the value of hybrid meetings, Smith explains. Rather than seeing them as threats to business, organizations understand that digital and hybrid components can benefit the attendee experience and the bottom line.
“We’re humans, and the need for social interaction still exists,” he concludes. So, while technology adds value, it remains a support and expansion of face-to-face events.
A version of this story originally appeared in Associations Now.