By Summer Middleton, President of LeTip International, Inc.
The majority of business professionals are familiar with attending professional events and conferences from the convenience of their homes, neighborhood coffee shops, or other locations with an internet connection. This virtual aspect of business meetings has been crucial ever since the COVID-19 outbreak changed the way we do business. Understanding how networking functions at hybrid events is essential to providing a fantastic experience across the whole consumer journey, as hybrid events are the future.
Although hybrid (part virtual, part in-person) and virtual events were initially presented as safer alternatives to physical events, businesses are now realizing that these two formats have a plethora of other advantages. Attendance rates are higher because attendees can access virtual and hybrid events from anywhere. These two models also have lower operating costs because of the lack of venue rental requirements.
Unfortunately, networking has always been one of the most difficult components of hybrid events. However, it is critical to keep guests’ attention throughout each event. Networking, which encourages interactions and adds value to event attendance, is one of the best ways to keep an audience interested. The benefits of hybrid events, such as participant flexibility, a larger audience, and safety, far outweigh the disadvantages.
Here are four keys to successful hybrid networking that I utilize within my company, LeTip International Inc., the world’s largest privately-owned professional business referral networking organization. We utilized them in hybrid, in-person, and virtual events long before the pandemic and attributed a lot of our success to these guidelines in our transition to a 100% virtual environment hosting hundreds of successful hybrid events a year.
Have a Plan
Businesses must be aware of what attendees truly desire to improve the hybrid event experience and provide attendees with the networking possibilities most appealing to them. How interested will some participants be to interact with virtual participants if they opt to join in person? Will online participants be content only conversing with other online attendees? A pre-event poll will help you decide how to foster networking at your hybrid event. If you discover that the majority of in-person and online attendees prefer to connect between groups, devise a strategy to allow them to communicate and collaborate. The approach you choose should not appear forced.
Having the Proper Technology
Recognize that each participant in the meeting, whether they are there in person or virtually, should be able to play a role in the meeting. You can’t treat online guests like second-class people, or they’ll regard the meeting as a low-class event. To achieve this, suitable equipment must be present in the room where in-person participants are present, and online members must also have adequate equipment and create a space where they are fully engaged. For example, attending a networking event while driving in your car does not allow you to be fully present, but a quiet space where you can join via your computer does.
That brings us to the third requirement: good manners. It’s essential to ensure all attendees are aware of what is expected of them before the event. Make sure to openly express expectations about factors such as background noise,which travels worse online than it does in person and can lead online attendees to believe they are not a part of the activity. Similarly, online attendees should be aware that having a static image of themselves instead of a live feed indicates that they are uninterested and that could be doing other tasks (such as vacuuming, doing dishes, and feeding cats) while attending a meeting can be taken as disrespect for the other people present. You wouldn’t bring your cat to a meeting and feed it, so why would you do it online? More than ever, events must be handled in a businesslike manner, with an agenda and a purpose.
Occasional Group Breakouts
Finally, the use of breakout groups to increase interaction is critical. Because having 20, 30, or 100 individuals in an online video meeting does not allow for the same level of engagement as in-person meetings (talking with people around you), it’s best to employ breakout sessions to allow more people to communicate with each other.
Regardless of the format of your event, networking is essential for business success. While traditional networking methods may be difficult in a hybrid world, missing out on the essential component of face-to-face meetings, technology has thankfully closed the gap by keeping all of us closer despite physical distance.
While organizing business events in any format can be difficult, preparing a hybrid event presents unique challenges. Businesses can provide opportunities for meaningful connections to all hybrid event attendees with sufficient planning, creativity, and the use of adequate technology, with the primary goal of facilitating an enjoyable experience for both live and virtual participants. Remember that in our hybrid remote world, the quality of your connections is more important than quantity.
About the Author
Summer was born in Los Angeles and was raised by a self-employed single mother who taught her about tenacity, perseverance, and determination. At 17 she started her career as a manager for a restaurant. Summer comments: “I’ve worked very hard for everything I have, which is a priceless lesson…” This early independence and drive assisted her in understanding entrepreneurship.
In 2000, Summer traded in her food service management hat for a job in commercial real estate. First hired as a receptionist, Summer suddenly found herself as the only employee. Challenged with the overwhelming decision to either go back to what she knew or to stay at her new post, she chose to stay.
She trained herself in software, systems, and corporate business procedure; and later became a Partner in the company. After she became Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, the company expanded from Los Angeles to Chicago. She found the business very rewarding, but it was while meeting a handsome tenant that led Summer to Chris Middleton. A serendipitous meeting that has led to 18 years of marital bliss and producing two beautiful sons, Nathan and Jordan.
In 2007, Summer entered into the first 10-store development deal for a Jersey Mike’s Franchise. In 2011, the business was sold, and Summer decided to stay home and raise their family. In 2017 she ventured back into the workforce and as luck would have it, landed at LeTip. Summer Middleton is an entrepreneur at her core and, having been a chapter member, this felt like home.