Networking In-Person, Online, or a Blend?

In 2017, I was sitting in the back of a senior leadership meeting for BNI.  The group was talking about the future of the organization and what we saw ahead of us as opportunities and challenges.  Someone from the group looked over at me and said, “you’re the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer, what do you see for the future of the company?”  I stood in the room and boldly said that because of advancements in mixed reality and holographic technologies, I thought the future of networking was likely to be online.  While I thought that would raise eyebrows – instead, it raised voices.  “No way,” was the overwhelming chorus of voices in response to my proclamation. The pushback was almost complete (with the exception of a few of the millennials in the room).

“Really?” asked one incredulous participant.  “Really, you’re the Founder of the world’s largest in-person networking organization and you honestly think that we will transition to online!?”   “Never,” said another person in the room. “I can’t believe that you would think that.” 

I re-learned a valuable lesson that day – when you have a bold vision, don’t just blurt it out.  Instead, ease people into that vision.  People aren’t receptive to massive change at first, they need to be eased into that change whenever possible [see The Cat’s on The Roof blog to see how to do that].

Recognizing the error of my ways, over the next year I began to talk at company events about disruption and how companies could become complacent in the delivery of their services and how they sometimes don’t see the train coming down the tracks at them. I spoke about Kodak, Sears, and Blockbuster as examples of what happens if a company is complacent with their operations.  I hoped that these stories would get them thinking about how we might be disrupted if we were not careful.  I later wrote about this type of disruption on after I had been talking about it for well over a year.

In December 2018, I wrote another article for Entrepreneur about the change that I saw coming in networking organizations, a change like the one I suggested a year earlier that caused such a vocal reaction when I brought it up.  I re-introduced this concept more than a year after I first blurted it out because I felt that I had laid the groundwork more effectively over the previous year.  It was my formal prediction in this article that the future of face-to-face meetings would be online.  Over time, I referred people in my organization to these two articles to help prepare them mentally for what I believed to be coming. Granted, I foresaw this development because of the emergence of technology and not a virus, but I saw it coming, nonetheless.

In mid-January of 2020, I was at a mastermind event where we were doing an exercise lead by Kian Gohar, Founder of Geolab. It was his “Moonshot Exercise.”   In it, he asked us to create a vision that we wanted to be embraced within our organization.  My vision was that by the end of 2020, the senior management of our company would see the inevitable fact that the future of networking would be, at least in part, online.  Little did I know that by the end of that very month, we would embrace that vision.

Credit needs to go to the CEO of BNI, Graham Weihmiller, who saw that Covid was going to be a far bigger problem in the world than anyone else in our organization thought (or people from most organizations for that matter).   By the end of January, he had transitioned some of BNI in Asia to online.  By February, he had transitioned much of Europe and by March of 2020, he, the franchisees, members, and the Global Support Team, had transitioned the entire organization to online.  This was no small feat.  In January of 2020, the company had 9,700 networking groups that were meeting in-person, every week!  By March of 2020, we had over 9,700 groups meeting online every week!  This was a pivot of monumental proportions.

Since that time, the company has added more than 400 additional chapters bringing the total number of networking groups to over 10,100 world-wide.  Virtually all of these groups were meeting online for most of 2020.  What seemed completely unfathomable to most people a couple of years earlier became the norm in just two years.

The question now within the company is – “what does the future hold for meetings going forward?”  The answer to that question has not been settled but it is under discussion.  That process has begun with a survey of over 2,300 members from around the world asking them if they would like their networking meetings to be:

1) In Person Only,

2) Online Only, or

3) A Blend of Online and In Person Meetings.

As you can see in the results below, one third of the participants of this survey wanted to go back completely to “In Person” Meetings.  However, 16% wanted to stick with “Online Meetings Only, and a whopping (considering the attitude just two years prior) of almost 51% of the survey respondents were in favor of a blend of meeting both in-person, and online.


What was unthinkable to most leaders in the organization just a few years earlier was now very possible for two thirds of the people surveyed by the organization.

Because of the continuous advancements in technology, the move to online networking meetings was inevitable.  The spread of Covid simply expedited the imminent disruption that lay ahead.

Lead the disruption or be disrupted.  That is the mantra that entrepreneurs must embrace to survive in the 21st century.  For networking groups, that means that it is time to embrace the inevitable transition to meeting online.  That said, I do believe that a blended approach is perfect at this time. For most businesspeople, meeting in person and shaking someone’s hand (when it is safe for us to do that again) has no online equivalent.

What are your thoughts about these ideas?

Has online networking been effective for you and your business?

17 thoughts on “Networking In-Person, Online, or a Blend?

  1. I do also believe that a mix of online and in-person Networking is the future. And depending of the Chapter, their location, this mix may differ from another region. If it has not been of the pandemic and we had switched to online meeting only, I think that the outcome would have been very negative. It was different this time because we were all embracing a common cause, staying healthy.

  2. I’m quite new to BNI, but have really embraced the zoom meetings and really taken advantage of this by visiting over 27 chapters since joining BNI last year August… I would never have been able to do this if we were meeting in person… I have made it a point of having 121s face to face thus getting to know the true character of fellow members as well as potential referral partners… I do believe that a social event every 6 weeks or so, such as a game of ten pin bowling should take place with fellow chapter members so as to keep the comradery amongst ourselves…and experience that in person effect…

  3. I had to move 170 groups of students (from the age of 3!) to online last year. We’re slowly coming back into the classroom but our teaching and services will never be the same. Blended learning offers the best of the two worlds. I clearly see a blended BNI. How? That’s the key! Maybe online weekly meetings with some face-to-face training and events? I look forward to seeing how BNI evolves.

  4. I completely agree with a blended version. I see value in both ways to meet.
    Nothing compares to meeting someone in person. No question.
    However, with online we are able to expand our network from our city to globally!
    I’ve visited chapters all over Canada,USA, UK and Australia. And I hope to visit more!!! I’ve had 1-2-1’s with people over Canada, USA, India, UK and Brazil. That NEVER would have happened with just in person meetings.
    With everything there is a negative and a positive. Obviously there’s been many negatives from the pandemic, but this may very well be one of the positives that come from it. Let’s embrace it!
    I’m excited to see where BNI is going, all the networking possibilities that lie ahead and how this new blended format rolls out in the coming months.

    Ingrid Misner
    BNI Nexus
    Winnipeg, Canada

  5. I visualise my chapter meetings in person but most of my 121s online. I was using Zoom 3 years ago for about 1 in 8 of my 121s. It felt like “cheating” in a sense but it generated business and look how things have changed in 2020. I can easily have a 121 every day online without the stress and time of travelling.

    1. Exactly, my sentiments, and now my chapter wants to go fully in-person and I feel, that is going backward, we cannot discount technology, look what it did for us during Covid, and now you just want to throw it on the side? what for? – Blend is good and wow let’s not talk about the benefits of online. I can have high-profile meetings from the comfort of my home without the stress of traveling. It is also good for the environment.

  6. Nothing beats meeting face-to-face. Zoom is a distant 2nd but just doesn’t provide the atmosphere and feedback offered by in-person meetings. There’s something about eating and laughing together that promotes comradery.

  7. A yet to be realized factor is the current population of chapter members. About 1/2 of ours have known nothing but online. How will the nature of chapters change when ALL members have no memory of a face to face relationship?

  8. Blended sessions is our future. We need the face to face contact, we miss those great moments. Online sessions give us the opportunity ro be around the world making great connections.

  9. Blended sessions is our future. We need the face to face contact, we miss those great moments. Online sessions give us the opportunity ro be around the world making great connections. Great sessions on line.

  10. My feeling is that on-line is easier for time management. It frees up and hour a week that would be spent to and from the meeting. I also only do 121’s in person. Doing a hybrid get’s us back to all meeting in person which I feel a valuable but then on the weeks we do on line, I save time. The issue with zoom has been members having internet issues or taking the meeting while driving….. I feel that on the zoom calls, we should be ON the call and not distracted by driving…

  11. I am more productive with our weekly meetings online. I prefer to do 1 2 1 in person or online and then have a monthly chapter in-person social. It is now possible to talk to prospective members about joining what I call the “global power of a BNI Membership” that gives you the ability to visit over 10,000 chapters in 70 countries and meet over 277,000 members… Before the only way possible to visit a chapter was to physically travel to a chapter. And being able to do 1 2 1’s online and with people being more open to doing them this way, its really extended my reach globally for my biz! Futher, having been on ELT, I do not miss the sheer hassle of constantly finding meeting space, the extra weekly costs of meeting fees, and losing valuable time both getting to and getting from a weekly BNI meeting. I agree that in-person is valuable, but again I think that can be done by doing 1 2 1’s in that format and having the chapter hosting a monthly in-person social…. and for bonus networking having the chapters in a region organize a quarterly social so everyone can meet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *