Wherever your business is going in the next year or so, networking events are probably going to be a part of it. 84% of professionals in leadership roles agree that live events (including networking events) are critical to the success of their companies. Given how important they are, they deserve some extra consideration. Don’t write off next year’s events as just another matter of course; the world of networking events is changing, and yours should be changing with it.
Why Business as Usual Won’t Cut It
Networking isn’t a static science. Instead of remaining the same year after year, it is constantly being reshaped by the influence of its participants. This is something you need to be aware of if you’re involved with coordinating networking events. Ongoing events position your organization as forward-thinking and current, which always reflects well on your business strategy as a whole. It may also help draw in more attendees, as many of these trends have to do with shifting attitudes among professionals in general.
So, what changes are in order? Based on current trends, your networking events for next year should be:
Formality is waning in most aspects of modern life, but this is especially the case for networking events. Although they were once some of the most hyper-professional gatherings you could go to, that approach has lost its luster over time. Now, it’s not uncommon to see reputable people decrying the usual stuffy types of events and encouraging professionals to do their peer-to-peer engagement activities outside of these structures.
This doesn’t mean that networking events are dead, but it does call for some reinvention on the part of hosts; you don’t want your event to feel like you’re putting on a play. Instead, try to set up a space and environment that sparks organic conversations between your guests. Everyone should feel as at home as possible while still maintaining a controlled environment with reasonable expectations for behaviour.
Smaller and More Intimate
Along with the predominantly informal nature of modern networking events comes a smaller scope. In the age of massively prevalent but largely meaningless social media connections, there is a growing recognition that quality is better than quantity when it comes to business contacts. Current tastes dictate that networking events should keep things small and restrained to allow for more meaningful interactions that actually accomplish something rather than just fulfilling a perceived obligation to network.
Nearly 97% of people prefer to meet for business purposes in groups of 10 or less. It would be silly to restrict yourself to just 10 attendees per event, but you should keep this guideline in mind when setting things up. People want to connect in a more organic way, and that’s tough to do when you’re surrounded by a crowd of hundreds or even thousands. The ideal way to remain expedient while still serving this goal is to aim for a relatively low number of attendees, then provide opportunities for them to break off into even smaller groups. This should result in closer contact without burning up any extra resources.
Diversity isn’t just a social value: it can also be a big business advantage. The companies that rank the highest in terms of ethnic and gender diversity have proven to be up to 35% more likely to be more profitable than their competitors. The value of having different points of view available to your business is becoming more and more evident, and with all the focus on bringing excluded or under-represented groups into the workplace in greater numbers, you can expect to see a continuing focus on this issue by next year as well.
If you’re going to be hosting networking events in this changed cultural landscape, you should be thinking about ways to promote inclusivity in the ranks of your attendees. Be sure to consider dimensions of diversity that go beyond differences in nationality or race when doing this. What could you do to make your events friendlier to women, disabled people, or even just those who speak a different language from you? This can include things like practicing considerate event timing (to work around care giving responsibilities, religious practices, or other social and cultural obligations), providing things for people to do together to make sure no one has to rely solely on verbal communication, and perhaps most importantly, hearing the voices of diverse groups in the planning process. Differences can become incredible assets at networking events, but for that to happen, you’ll need to create an environment that makes different people feel welcome.
Shorter in Time
Everyone knows how unpleasant it is to feel pressed for time, but unfortunately, that feeling is becoming more and more common these days. Not only is the average person generally working more hours each year as compared to the one before it, but commute times are also becoming demanding (many major metropolitan cities around the world carry average commute times of more than 90 minutes). These necessary commitments leave people with very little time for supplemental activities like networking events. Some people will count them as part of a work day, but even in that case, their lack of immediately obvious ROI may cause them to be pushed aside in favour of more clearly beneficial activities if some activity must be sacrificed. The exception to this rule, as always, is the full getaway-style event conference, which for logistical reasons will probably never shorten like this. They can make greater demands on people’s time because they are not only infrequent, but also generally lavish and somewhat leisurely; they can double as a small vacation as well as a work commitment.
If current trends are anything to go by, people will have even less free or unstructured time next year, and that’s saying something. Expect upcoming networking events to adapt to this general busy lifestyle by becoming shorter and more compact if they aren't going all-out. If you want people to attend a more modest event, you have to make it more convenient for them to fit it into their schedule. A busy, tired, stressed person might not be able to commit to a three-hour-long event, but a one-hour one might be more doable. Containing event times into shorter windows therefore can usually be expected to lead to greater attendance.
Greater in Number
Don’t mistake shorter events for fewer events, because that is the opposite of what is being observed across networking events currently. Between 2017 and 2018, there were 17% more companies organizing 20 or more events per year, and there is no indication that this trend is slowing down anytime soon. Many smaller companies will fall well short of the 20-event mark, of course, but the general point still stands. If you’re going to host events at all, it’s becoming more and more common to host multiple in the same year.
Staying in touch with this networking development means splitting your event planning up for the year, even if that isn’t what you would normally do. Don’t pour all your time and resources into just one event, but instead plan for several. Space them out throughout the year to capture different audience at different times and maximize the variety in your contact lists. Doing this not only aligns better with attendee expectations, but might also give you some extra opportunities for lucrative long-term networking that builds over the course of multiple event invitations.
Better Supported By Technology
There are countless things we no longer do because technology has rendered them pointless. Some aspects of how we deal with contact data at networking events are likely to go this way as well. Business cards have been around for almost as long as business itself has, and they probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be used differently in terms of their role in conveying contact data.
Expect things like lead capturing mobile apps to become more widely used over time as people catch on to the fact that there’s an easier way to handle their contact data. As a host, you can better accommodate these kinds of changes by choosing venues with good Wi-Fi coverage and amplifying the signal if it isn’t already adequate, as well as ensuring that guests have an easily accessible place to charge their phones if they need to. It’s little touches like this that make you stand out as a good host and ensure that everything goes according to plan.
Networking is such a dynamic topic that it’s impossible to ever stay very far ahead of its evolution; even these very short-term predictions are far from a sure thing. However, making an effort to observe what other companies and event holders are doing is always a good idea. You don’t want to be caught off-guard and looking antiquated as these kinds of changes settle in for the long run. It’s the up-to-date organizations that keep themselves ahead of the networking events game who will usually seem most attractive to clients and talent alike.
We have great tips on the things to do and not to do before, during and after your networking events. Get your checklist today.
Expect to see more expert content coming your way soon. While you wait, consider joining us as we continue to facilitate business connections through data.