The art of the virtual welcome: Why associations are better digital hosts
- I have been to some dreadful parties in my time. I’ve also been to some pretty good ones. A few have been truly memorable. Disappointingly for the event management professionals reading this, the difference has never come down to theming, décor, entertainment, food, or quantity of alcoholic beverage on offer. It has always been about the people in the room. But more than that. How the people in the room meet and mingle. A good party is always a party where you meet someone new, find common ground, arrange to meet again.
- A good conference is the same as a good party albeit with (possibly) less drinking and dancing involved. But the chance encounter, the meeting of minds, the tacit exchange of knowledge is what makes a good conference experience stand out from a bad one. And professional conference organisers, in-house or agency-side, know this.
- Conference networking is pre-planned, structured, helped along by networking tools (and some tricks) but always by a conference programme design that maximises the opportunities for people with common professional interests and ambitions to meet.
- That is why, in this staggered shift to virtual and online conferences, associations are better digital hosts. They are bothered by and restless to solve the issue of digital hosting. They want to be sure that whatever solution (or platform) they choose to use to host their next virtual or hybrid conference that they can directly influence who and how people meet, digitally.
- Because associations know that every member experience counts. Members must have a good and positive experience of not just the first but the second and all the conferences they attend during the lifetime of their membership. And, to be online, to participate in conference and not be – in the more traditional sense – welcomed at the door and introduced to one more person is the social equivalent of being stuck in the kitchen at a party !
- Associations have always been early adopters of conference technology. Today, as the long days of working from home serve to drain us of any last bit of creative programme planning, associations are proving to be better digital hosts than most. Why so? Because associations are not leaving the meet and mingle aspects of their conferences to chance. And they are not using single solutions to solve this complex problem. They are using online platform providers of course but they are deploying the full suite of communication tools and techniques to set up chance encounters, online.
- So, hats off to those associations who are planning communication campaigns that comfortably embrace the networking opportunities either side of conference. To those associations plotting individual (and particularly first-time attendee) social calendars. To those matchmaking across professional areas of interest. To those taking an almost forensic approach to making sure the attendees bump into as many like-minded people as possible, virtually.
- Let’s remember that there are two types of hosting. Technical hosting is easy. Social hosting, in a digital setting, much more difficult. Networking online is socially awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. We have the technology to meet virtually and no doubt there will be an increasing number of digital solutions to choose from. But I predict that the people who will run the best online experiences will ultimately be the people who know how to host the best parties. The people who make sure that everyone has someone to talk to. That everyone gets asked to dance at least once. The people who understand, completely, what good networking be that physical or digital, looks like.
- We must not leave the tacit exchange of knowledge to virtual chance. To do so will mean that we lose a whole year of good professional knowledge transfer and exchange. If we go online, and most associations must go online to serve members at this time, we need to make sure that we meet, meaningfully, when we do.
- Chance online encounters leading to the tacit exchange of knowledge will become the new measure of conference success in this Covid19 era quickly replacing more traditional ROI or ROO rankings.
- Plan your online conference like you would plan your best party and remember it is all about who you meet not how you meet.
THE ART OF THE VIRTUAL WELCOME: WHY ASSOCIATIONS ARE BETTER DIGITAL HOSTS
The value of networking is not measured by the number of people we meet but by the number of people we introduce to others