Event Design

Stop Creating Networking Events

People interacting

Skift Take

Networking is passé, and in an ever-growing virtual world, connecting with colleagues and associates on a physical and emotional level is imperative. 

The word networking is passé, and so is the concept. Today, connectivity and human connection reign supreme. In an ever-growing virtual world, connecting with colleagues and associates on a physical and emotional level is imperative. This was a focus of the Skift Meetings 2023 Event Trends Summit.

Liz Lathan, a co-founder of The Community Factory, was featured in the session “Designing Networking for Humanity.” She believes the key to event success is to create belonging through transformative experiences — to push beyond traditional networking to form a community. 

“I’m an extrovert. I get my energy from being around people, but I absolutely cannot stand networking events. You walk into a room with a bunch of people — some already know each other, and they’re in cliques. If I walk up to one and they don’t make that turn to let me in, I feel like I’m hunting for a place to go, and I’ve just lost all motivation and interest in me even being there.”

Event Wing People

A solution? Have “event wing people” on site. “They will help people find their tribe and create a sense of belonging. They will get an immediate welcome — the connection people are looking for,” said Lathan. “It’s about pushing beyond the networking and business card exchange. It’s creating moments where people feel like they belong. Knocking down the walls and creating a true connection that lasts long after the event.” 

During Lathan’s session, Adam Fillary, a networking consultant, asked if the industry needs a new definition. “Networking seems to have a stigma attached to it,” he said.

Lathan agreed and shared she is afraid the same will happen to the word “community.”  “It has become a buzzword, and everything now seems to be a community event. So I really do think that we have to come up with a new definition. If you’ve got a new word, if you’ve got recommendations, I’m all ears,” she said. “Perhaps as an industry, we should differentiate between networking and community events and be specific on the different vibe present at each.” 

Community-First Thinking

Event strategists are concerned with just that — strategy. “The focus is now on community enablement. How are we designing programs and marketing activities that will enable our community to share our values and everything that we offer and solutions to their peers? Because we all know that people don’t believe in advertising anymore. They go to peer review sites and look at their reviews on Amazon. It’s all about what other people like them are thinking. With this community feedback model, you will know what you’re not doing right and can fix it. I think 2023 is our year to really inject community-first thinking in all of our programs.”

In context, Fillary says the word networking is ancient. His alternative? Human vesting. “Think about what it means to vest your time in people with the hope they will do the same,” he explains. 

What’s Your Name?

He laments that the majority don’t follow up after networking events because they can’t even remember your name. “We are in danger of losing what it is to be human,” he said. 

As technology increasingly permeates our culture, relatable connection takes on added importance.  What can an event planner do? “Sculpt what you want to happen in that room in advance,” he said. “Very rarely do you see people who are brave enough to admit their ask. It comes down to communicating why you are there and what you need,” said Fillary. “As the host, it is your job to read the room and keep people moving. Think about it. You are lucky they have turned up, so make them feel comfortable.”

Catch up on the full 2023 Event Trends Summit, available on demand at no cost.