What do you think? Did COVID and COVID restrictions end the days of Business After Hours, Mixers and other networking events for chambers? Or are they still valuable? Do people still want to attend?
Yes and No
The answer may be as simple as what Henry Ford used to say,
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
COVID could easily end the idea of a chamber’s Business After Hours or online networking mixer events.
After all, virtual events are getting old. The novelty has worn off. And it seems hard to connect with people you don’t know on a virtual platform.
But, on the other hand, you also know that the attendees you do have online really want to be there. Goodness knows they could be 100 other places (like watching WW84, for instance).
So which is it?
Are Business After Hours events finished or not?
Maybe Business After Hours at your chamber are merely in hibernation and not gone forever.
In order to determine which it is, you must first decide whether you want your program to thrive or if you’re ready to move in a different direction.
If you want it to thrive, you need to invest a little time and creativity into bringing it back.
Start with deciding if they are largely going to be virtual or in-person.
Improving Virtual Chamber Business After Hours
Virtual meeting fatigue is real.
People are tired of the online thing and it can be difficult to hold someone’s attention, connect with those you don’t already know, and be heard in a setting where there are a lot of people.
So how do you go about improving your virtual BAH?
Here are a few ideas.
Don’t Advertise Too Early
I haven’t studied the psychology behind it, but it seems like it is much easier to decide further ahead about attending an in-person event than it is for a virtual one.
So advertising your virtual BAH too early may result in a lot of people saying they’re “going” and not many actually showing up.
Instead, if you’re going to concentrate on a real recruitment effort (and you should), save it for a few days or even hours before it’s going to start.
People will have a much clearer view of their schedule because let’s face it: they feel like there’s little “obligation” to attend a virtual event.
If someone tells you they’ll be at an in-person event, they feel a bit of regret if they end up not going. However, if they RSVP to a virtual event and then are a no-show, they don’t expect to be missed.
In fact, when it comes to webinars, hosts support the idea. They suggest signing up even if you can’t attend so you can receive a recording of the webinar later.
Use Email and Text Reminders
Make sure you send out reminders to those who have signed up as well as those who haven’t; just make sure they aren’t the same reminders. The ones for those who planned on attending your business after hours or mixer should tell them how excited you are to see them in a day, and again in a few hours. You should probably send one when the event is about to start too.
Do the same interval for those who haven’t registered but remind them of the benefits of attending and what they’ll get out of it.
Whenever possible, be specific. “Great networking” isn’t a reason to attend. “Get to know people who can help you grow your business” is more appealing. “Enter to win a trip to Cancun,” even better. Be specific as to what can be achieved by attending.
Emails are good reminders but many people are learning to pace themselves when checking emails. A lot of productivity gurus will suggest designating specific times throughout the day to check them and not every time a new notification beeps in. This may mean your recipient will miss a last-minute reminder.
If you have been given permission to text, use it.
Texts are a very good way to get people to join in, especially at the last minute because very few people ignore a text when it comes in. If you add joining instructions to your reminder, there’s an even greater chance that they’ll attend.
Experiment with Times
Traditionally, a Business After Hours Event is in the evening, but if you find that no longer works for your attendees, you could try changing the time to something more appealing.
Poll your group to find out what works best for them. Sure, you might need to change the event name, but finding out when your audience is available will improve attendance.
Have Your “Geek” Tech Squad Standing By
If there’s tech involved there will always be someone who has trouble with it. You will feel a lot more at ease if you have someone who’s there simply to help get people logged on or troubleshoot problems.
Also, don’t keep this person behind the scenes. Introduce them to everyone. Make them a part of your events so no one worries about tech. They know they have their best techie friend ready to help. This will cut down on any hesitancy the technophobes have in joining a virtual event.
Improving In-person Chamber Business After Hour Events
If your area is open, hopefully you are comfortable in hosting in-person BAHs. These have probably changed with COVID as well: more hand sanitizer and space, less handshaking and hugs.
Are people coming out to them or are you seeing your audience shriveling? If it’s the latter, there are a few things you can do to make them more appealing.
While some audiences will thrill to exciting holiday themes, some will not. But that doesn’t mean giving up on themes altogether. Themes help shape people’s expectations as well as being fun. Instead of the expected holidays, try something new. Perhaps business-inspired themes like:
- Set My Goals: a goal sharing evening designed around sharing goals, keeping each other accountable, and brainstorming ideas.
- Shark Tank: come pitch your business ideas to possible investors. If you can’t get investors to your BAH, ask that everyone chip in a small dollar amount as a cover charge and award the pot to the best business ideas at the end of the night. You can use a panel of distinguished judges or crowdsource the winner.
- Desires and Solutions: Everyone in attendance should bring one business desire and present one skill they are good at. Encourage them to share what they’re looking for in their business (their desire) and their special skill with the individuals they meet. Once they meet several people they’ll be able to start matching special skills with desires. Desires can also be personal like “a trip to Disney” or “remodeling a kitchen” as there may be someone there that night whose business can help with those things.
(Find out how to get 100 more chamber event theme ideas at the end of this article.)
Recruit Those Great Connectors
When you are inviting people to these events, it’s important to have a certain number of participants. A mixer of one is difficult to make a success. But you also want to ensure you invite the right types, specifically connectors.
You are looking for people who do a good job interacting with others (your power networkers) but also those who are good at matching the needs of others with the people who can help. Do your best to get several connectors at each event.
Keep Intros Short and Few
In a Business After Hours event, it’s easy to fall into the trap of allowing people to speak for several minutes at the beginning. Listening to a presentation or speech is not connecting. You want to encourage interaction and having a talking head at the front does the exact opposite of that.
If you feel the need to have an introduction at the business after hours event or have a sponsor speak, give them something that ties them into the event. For instance, if you ask the attendees what they’re specifically looking for in the event, your host/speaker could share those details like, “This is sure to be an exciting event tonight. We have several people interested in finding out about marketing and others who are hoping for some advice on the new employment law changes.” The speaker could ask these people to identify themselves or simply encourage the mingling to begin.
Either way, make sure what they say is tied into the value of the event and they’re not simply speaking because they sponsored the event.
This is critical.
You are doing the speaker a favor because you’re showing that they are “in the know” about what attendees want and they’re getting people excited about the event, not giving them a reason to tune out early.
So are Business After Hours another casualty, another negative outcome of COVID?
Many people have changed up their businesses and offerings under COVID and that means they need to network and get the word out about how things have changed. Other people may be starting new businesses. Others may be looking for work.
There is a definite need in the community for good mixers and Business After Hours events.
If you don’t organize them, it’s likely another group will. But just because there’s a need doesn’t mean your Business After Hours event should look the same in 2021 as it did in 2019. We have changed quite a bit over the last year. It’s okay for your BAHs to do the same.