Vive la revolution! There’s been a revolution in the way we network – with face to face meetings off the agenda, we’ve all learned to ‘zoom zoom’. Whilst some have been dragged reluctantly into the online world, and can’t wait to get ‘back to the way things were’, we at Fresh have embraced the change, know it is here to stay, and see it very definitely as the shining future of networking.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – the pandemic created the necessity and we at Fresh invented a new approach to networking. We listened and learned and adapted – and in doing so have become the experts in online networking.
I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about making online networking work. The biggest lesson overall is that you can’t just take what you did face to face, and put it online. Online networking requires a different approach, and we’ve developed the Fresh ‘three course meal’ model.
Entrée – meeting lead up
Pre-meeting engagement is essential, especially for visitors who found us online, rather than being invited by a member. We have a series of communications before the meeting, to make the visitor feel expected and welcome, to build a sense of excitement and to tell them about some of the other parts of Fresh, like the Academy. We’ve learned that by engaging before the meeting, we can maximise visitor attendance, helping to keep meetings vibrant and fresh.
Main course – the meeting
When we first started holding online meetings, we had just one agenda, and it was the same one that we used for our face to face meetings. But as we ran more meetings, we realised that you can’t keep people engaged online if you are doing the same thing every meeting. So we created no less than four different agendas, and rotate them to keep things interesting.
We’ve learned that an online meeting has to be ‘produced’ in much the same way as a TV show:
• Everyone has to know their role, and when to step in
• The presenters must have rehearsed their script so they can read it as naturally (think newsreader with an autocue)
• Have more than one presenter – give your audience a change of voice and tone
• Rehearse the tech so that it runs smoothly (I have heard some horror stories from other networking groups, and yes…I did snigger…)
• Visuals are essential online – speakers need to make sure their slides are professional and high quality, members have appropriate backgrounds and lighting
• You need a ‘Fresh fluffer’ – a ‘continuity person’ who’ll keep the energy high if there is an unforeseen gap in proceedings.
• The ‘show’ must be entertaining – pick interesting and fun ice-breaker and discussion topics. Don’t ask volunteers for answers – that leads to those awkward silences. Pick someone and ask them for their opinion (making sure to ask a member before asking a guest, who may feel uncomfortable going first).
• Introduce plenty of opportunity for audience participation – it’s called ‘networking’ not ‘sit in silence and listen-ing’
• Respect people’s time and finish when you say you will
• Above all, remember that you have an audience and keep them top of mind at all times.
Dessert – the follow up
A main without dessert feels like an unfinished meal – and in Fresh, our follow up is the chocolate mousse…
Once an online meeting ends, your visitors have gone, there’s no hanging around for chat afterwards. That makes follow up super-important, so we have a series of communications that keep the connection going.
Follow up actually starts in the meeting with our ‘Let’s Connect’ segment where we all say who we’d like to spend a bit more time with. Then visitors receive one or more emails, inviting them to join, or re-visit or stay in touch. Our meetings are the magnet that draws people together, but the real magic happens afterwards, when members and guests Get Fresh’ and continue the connection they’ve started in the meeting.
No zoom fatigue here
At Fresh, we don’t suffer from ‘zoom fatigue’. We embrace online networking and we see it as an exciting opportunity for endless, boundary-less connections. We’ve used the last 18 months to really understand and become experts in online networking – so that we can keep things Fresh, and show our members and guests that online really is the networking of the future.