Will Face-to-Face Networking Ever Be a Thing Again?
Last year we learned that we can all network online pretty well. Can you imagine if Covid had struck the world ten years ago? The technology that exists today saved a lot of businesses from complete failure. That said, I talk to a lot of people who say the world will never return to what it was before Covid. I’m a little bit of a contrarian on that topic. Not long after the Spanish flu, the world returned to its old ways. I think that a few years from now (with some exceptions), the world will look very much like it did in 2019.
I believe that face-to-face networking will definitely return. However, it will most likely be a hybrid of in-person meetings and online meetings. Covid actually did not make that happen, but it greatly accelerated that change. Technology has been developing at such a rapid pace that experts have been saying that mixed-reality technologies and holographic images and meetings were less than a decade away. Three years ago, I predicted in an article that it would change in-person networking forever. Covid simply accelerated that transition.
One of the results of Covid was that it showed businesses that they need to be prepared to pivot if they wanted to survive. BNI, the company I founded in 1985, moved 10,000 weekly, in-person networking groups, to online networking groups in a matter of weeks. Now that we are gradually being released from what I call “The Great Pause” many networking groups will be going back to in-person. Some may be a hybrid – meeting some weeks online, and some face-to-face. Because of technology, this transition was inevitable without Covid – it just happened sooner because of Covid. Online is more convenient but it lacks the ability to make a personal connection and you’re not able to read body language as well. Maybe someday when we have mixed reality or holographic meetings that might change (envision the Jedi Knights meeting in person and as holographs in Star Wars). As crazy as that sounds, I think it is closer than most people imagine.
In the meantime, what can people do to make their career and business networking more impactful and even fun? Here are three tips that will help you today:
- When you are networking online with more than a handful of people, do breakout rooms to have deeper conversations with a couple people. Large networking groups are total chaos if people are all trying to talk. Breakout rooms allow more meaningful conversations to take place.
- If you are going to do an online 1-2-1, send the other person a bottle of wine like the one you are drinking or an Uber Eats meal and share it together via your online platform. I’ve done that multiple times, it’s a blast and it’s very effective.
- During these 1-2-1’s have meaningful conversations. For example, with someone you don’t know, you might want to start with something like “what’s the best connection you’ve made or best meeting you’ve had online?” That’s a good starter question. If it’s someone you know – you can go deeper with a technique I call the GAINS Exchange. With that, you both share your current Goals, Accomplishments, Interests, Networks, and Skills. This is a great way to really connect on a deeper level with people you already know.
We live in very challenging times. What I’ve seen over the last year is that people tend to either get frozen by fear or focused by fear. Those who get focused by fear, not only survive, they can thrive during difficult times. Today more than ever, you need your network. Your network can help you get through any storm and whether it is in-person or online, networking is here to stay.
Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. Founded in 1985 the organization now has over 10,000 chapters throughout every populated continent of the world.Called “The Father of Modern Networking” by CNN, Dr. Misner is both a New York Times and a Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author. www.BNI.COM