The traditional meet-and-greet isn’t exactly compatible with the new normal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think creatively about keeping the networking flame alive.

If you’re a fan of networking events with big crowds and open bars, the past year was a major shift.

But the networking events of the past might be giving way to something more spontaneous, focused, and intimate—with the potential for sparking some big ideas along the way.

WHAT’S THE STRATEGY?

Think smaller with your networking events. Instead of trying to get a bunch of people into a ballroom, for example, build an event for smaller groups that invites more intimate connections.

There are a couple of examples of what this could look like. For one, The New York Times recently highlighted the increasing popularity of small salon-style events, in which a seminar with a limited audience encourages communal conversation on a meaty topic, rather than a larger gathering with less focus.

There’s also the idea of simply hosting a networking event outdoors with a shorter guest list. BizBash notes that this approach can work well during conferences, and it also offers the opportunity to highlight the location.

This strategy fits into the virtual world as well. The marketing resource WARC recommends creating virtual “clubs” that can leverage interactivity in small groups rather than aiming for the hustle and bustle of a large cocktail party.

WHY IS IT EFFECTIVE?

These events thrive on creativity and a less formal approach. As a result, they can be less complex to plan than a traditional meeting.

Because these events tend to be more focused, BizBash suggests that gatherings can take place for just an hour instead of stretching out over an entire evening—allowing people to meet others in small groups for a few minutes at a time without the awkwardness of simply milling around a room.

“At the end of that time, the groups could switch but in a more orderly way than just people wandering around the room as we would usually see,” Lee Gimpel of Better Meetings told the outlet.

The small scale also could be a boon for the wallflowers in your membership, who might struggle at a larger networking event.

WHAT’S THE POTENTIAL?

The salon concept in particular provides an interesting case study that associations may want to consider for the long run.

The Times notes that historically, salons have thrived after difficult periods around the world, such as major wars. In fact, the salon concept began in France as the result of religious warfare in the 17th century.

“When it first began, it was the only place in France where you could have civilized conversation and hear immortal wisdom from some of the best minds of the generation,” researcher Jesse Browner told the newspaper.

As a result, salons could provide a bridge between larger in-person festivities and virtual gatherings—allowing for a more thoughtful transition.

ERNIE SMITH

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE »