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Revisiting In-Person Networking: What’s Changed?

With so much time passed since the last time we donned a real-life name tag, are we even ready to start networking in person again? Will it be everything we remember, or will it look notably different in a post-pandemic context? 

With in-person gatherings on the horizon, it’s time to dust off your heels and find those business cards because it’s networking time! Although we have certainly made use of virtual means of connecting over the past year, I know I am not alone in missing face-to-face networking. With Catersource + The Special Event sneaking up on us this summer, many of you are probably planning your game plan to meet and greet with everyone you want to see. 

Yet, with so much time passed since the last time we donned a real-life name tag, are we even ready to start networking in person again? Will it be everything we remember, or will it look notably different in a post-pandemic context? 

See Meghan Ely during The Special Event, co-located with The Catersource Conference & Tradeshow, in Miami July 19 – 22, 2021. Immerse yourself in an inspiring and safe event focused on the new trends and opportunities in events and catering. Learn more

Fortunately, a selection of industry experts chimed in about the future landscape of in-person networking to give us a glimpse at what to expect on the road ahead. 

A spectrum of boundaries 

Everyone has had their own reaction and experience to COVID, so do not go into a networking situation with assumptions about others’ comfort levels. Nora Sheils, co-founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss, encourages people to be mindful of others’ feelings, stating: “Many of us are a bit shell shocked from COVID, having had very limited exposure to those outside of our pods. Getting used to networking, shaking hands, and being within six feet of others will definitely be a bit of a transition, vaccination or not.” 

“Some will be more comfortable than others, so we all must be mindful of respecting space and wishes,” Sheils continues. “Don’t go in for the hug or the handshake; ask what the person is comfortable with first. There is definitely going to be an awkward transition, but I think that’s better than instantly making someone feel offended or uncomfortable.” 

As you prepare for Catersource + The Special Event, or your next networking event, practice your wave and smile—they will come in handy, even if you are masked up! 

Smaller groups, larger spaces 

We have seen the trend in client events, and the same will carry suit in our own industry events. Headcounts will be downsized while venue spaces will be larger to accommodate attendees’ health and safety by facilitating open-air social distancing.  

“There has been a shift in networking events being hosted at larger venue spaces,” affirms Shannon Tarrant, founder of Wedding Venue Map. “Even with a small group, attendees are looking for extra space to mingle and be socially distant from each other. Seated meals require fewer seats at each table, which leads to a bigger footprint because of increased tables. Cocktail events need additional tables so there aren’t more than two people at each gathering space.” 

For practical purposes, this change in networking events will likely mean that tickets are grabbed up early by those who are serious about attending. For gatherings you really want to join, take advantage of early bird registrations to secure your seat and possibly save some money while you’re at it. 

So many opportunities, so little time 

All event pros know that we are heading into a busy jam-packed season with postponed events from 2020 overlapping with 2021 and 2022 celebrations. But, how does this impact our networking opportunities? 

“Event professionals will be much more selective about the large, in-person networking events that they attend in this post-COVID world,” explains Jen Ganson, owner and lead planner for A Fresh Event. “Not only being cautious for health reasons but as we re-enter this new normal, it will also be due to a prioritization of time. Due to a backlog of weddings and events, the next couple of years are going to be busy and I believe that vendors will have limited time outside of their client work for multiple networking events.” 

With that said, your time will be more valuable than ever before. If you do plan on carving out time for networking and educational opportunities in 2021, do your research to ensure that it is a worthwhile endeavor that will provide a return for your business. While there might have been time to fit in just-for-fun opportunities in the past, networking in 2021 and beyond must be purposeful in making an impact on your business and within your community. 

Long story short, the answer is yes: networking will look different on the other side of the pandemic. However, the value of reconnecting in-person will be even greater than before as we come together to collectively revitalize the industry and bring back the power of live events. 

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