The future of professional networking

By Pelican Director Cheryl Bennett

3 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Life won’t snap back to how it was in 2019, we should aim to improve how we did things in 2020.
  • The shift from physical to virtual networking events is likely permanent.
  • Take the opportunity to find new ways to reach out to your contacts.

How many events were you expecting to attend in 2020 that were either moved online, postponed, or cancelled altogether? Given the chance to attend one now, would you feel comfortable in a space with hundreds of other delegates?

Although restrictions are due to be lifted this summer, life won’t snap back to how it was in 2019. Rather than trying to re-create pre-pandemic networking events, we should aim to improve upon how we did them in 2020.

Why networking is important.

Networking is about creating long-term professional relationships. When you invest in these relationships it can pay you back in dividends throughout the course of your career. Networking also helps you stay on top of the latest trends in your industry and of course plus meet prospective clients.

A shift away from traditional networking events was already happening pre-pandemic, with camping trips, sporting events and volunteering days all being used to create more personalised alternatives to traditional business events. Now though, the shift is from physical to virtual.

Virtual networking

Many conferences and events have now moved to virtual systems such as Zoom, Socio, Attendify and eventcloud, which allow participants to connect from anywhere in the world.

As virtual event platforms have grown in popularity and functionality, the technology has quickly evolved to allow for more types of interactions and for organisers to better replicate in-person events. There are now options for nearly every budget and size of event.

Of course, as many of us have found, this technology is far from perfect. Time zone differences, unreliable connections and the awkwardness of interacting with people online all cause problems. But despite the challenges, we’re starting to see the benefits of virtual networking.

The overall cost of running and attending virtual events are much lower, with planners saving on staff, venue, setup and takedown, and attendee’s saving on hotels, meals and travel costs.

Speaking of travel, people from across the world can join virtual events without thinking about how much time and money it will take to get there, meaning you can connect with people no matter where they’re based. Plus there are significant environmental benefits from reduced travel, which has to be a bonus for all of us.

It seems likely virtual networking will continue throughout 2021, but is it here to stay?

A new way to network

As we’ve adapted to the disruption of COVID-19, we’ve all been forced to use online platforms to stay in touch and forge relationships. As a result we’re much more confident with the technology and are even developing new etiquettes around these interactions.

But that’s not to say we’ve seen the end of face-to-face events. I think physical events will return – there’s only so much screen time anyone can take – but organisations will offer a hybrid of a live event with the option to participate virtually.

These hybrid events will help the industry keep going until it’s safe to meet in large groups, and encourage the development of high production values in order to keep remote attendees engaged.

While we patiently wait for canapes and drinks receptions to return, now is the perfect time to think about other ways you can reach out and nurture your existing network. Perhaps send a handwritten note, or an article or pick up the phone to check in.

If you need help creating an engaging online networking event, or advice on making the best impression in a virtual environment, get in touch with our experts today.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSR, food, packaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategy, design, content creation, public relations and people development. Contact us for marketing and communications expertise.

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