With the near-absence of in-person events this year, one of many things that has taken a back seat is professional networking. Even with LinkedIn, so much about connecting with others involves a face-to-face interaction.
Vail Valley professional development organizations are implementing creative solutions to help build connections, even if they aren’t as tangible as they were pre-pandemic.
The Vail Valley Partnership used to see continual, overwhelming support for its monthly mixers, breakfasts and educational speaker events, all which had a networking focus. Those traditional events have been canceled, but per a VVP survey conducted during the pandemic, personal connection ranked high on members’ priorities.
“It’s really hard to bring 100 or 120 people together at a pavilion, or a restaurant, or a brewery, or a coffee shop or any of those things,” said Chris Romer, president and CEO of the VVP. “What we’re moving towards is the idea of quality over quantity.”
One of the ways the VVP hopes to manifest quality over quantity is by curating connections for its members through safer events, like a recent walk for 10 members at the Edwards River Preserve. Guests could social distance and have peace of mind. This winter, the VVP hopes to continue with that idea by hosting snowshoe or ski days.
It’s also hosting a virtual wine tasting in December as its annual meeting, where guests can pick up samples from event partner Beaver Liquors for the video call. The typical annual meeting, a multi-office mixer, could attract 300 people.
“We’re still going to be working on providing opportunities for connection. It’s just going to be much more intentional,” Romer said.
To that end, he also envisions members reaching out and asking for those curated connections. If someone wants to meet someone who’s involved in technology, or professional service for example, the VVP would facilitate a micro connection that may not have happened in a large gathering, where there are lots of people to meet and get to know.
“We need to meet people where they are at. Some people are going to be comfortable getting together in person, so we’re going to provide those types of opportunities, be it snowshoeing or ski day. Others are going to be wanting to do this online,” Romer said.
Which is why the VVP is building a full online platform for members that it hopes to launch early next year. The platform is designed to help increase engagement with others and facilitate that connection in a way that makes people feel comfortable, Romer said, no matter their perspectives on the pandemic.
“It’s a kind of a digital home where they can connect and learn and grow and personalize their journey, between peer-to-peer connections and access to other people in the business community,” he said.
The Vail Valley Business Women hopes to offer some of the same. The pandemic forced the VVBW to cancel its events starting in April. Through the summer, it offered virtual events via Zoom, adjusting its member enrichment activities to work through digital media.
“The real benefit for us, in honing those virtual events, has been reaching a larger audience, and people who are not familiar with our organization,” said Laura Waniuk, who was president at the time. Board positions transitioned in September, and now Sarah Siegel is president.
Going virtual meant the VVBW could reach, for example, people whose schedules didn’t align with the traditional 5:30 p.m. networking events; people who couldn’t attend events because they’re based in Eagle and the event is in Vail; moms who were unable to leave family responsibilities.
“We were able to actually introduce quite a few new people to our organization,” Waniuk said.
One challenge Siegel faces in the wake of COVID as the VVBW’s new president is planning the annual Holiday Soiree, the association’s biggest annual fundraiser that collects 100% of money that funds its college scholarship program, benefitting girls majoring in business at two-year or four-year colleges.
Though a traditional event isn’t happening, Siegel is working to move the silent auction online, and guests can pick up to-go dessert items at scheduled times. She’s also hoping to plan a pre-register holiday meal takeout, offering a limited number for sale to help raise money.
“We’re still waiting it out to decide if we’re going to do Zoom or in-person for the next couple of months after that,” Siegel said. “It has to be creative. There’s no other way right now, other than being on your toes and just trying to figure out what’s next.”