The unplanned shift from in-person to virtual events meant that a vital component of meetings was suddenly missing: networking. And it is very difficult to replicate remotely. Although many conference attendees are yearning to get back together in person, networking isn’t going to be the same in any meeting format.
The Virtual Networking Incubator Roundup report, based on insights from more than 150 association professionals who participated in a six-week exploration of networking in virtual settings, showed that traditional networking elicited feelings of fun, belonging, joy, and happiness. The surprising flip side? Fifty-eight percent of the participants said anxiety and concern were a big factor for them with traditional networking, but only 16 percent pointed to anxiety and concern during digital gatherings.
In-person networking events, particularly receptions, can be stressful for participants unless they know a lot of attendees, or they are there with a friend or colleague. “If you’re really connected, receptions are a blast, but if you’re there by yourself, receptions are painful,” said Amanda Kaiser, CEO of Kaiser Insights and coauthor of the report.
A lot of structure and activities help, especially fun activities like games where people have to work together to solve a problem or accomplish something. Participants get a sense of each other and have a chance to get acquainted. “They’re understanding that they’re part of a community that is bigger than themselves,” Kaiser said. Structure also helps newer people who don’t have a network yet because it gives them something to do.