Best Strategies for Creating Networking Opportunities at Your Next Event
As any coordinator knows, a primary goal of your event is to offer a multitude of benefits to all the attendees participating in it. We all know you want your attendees to have fun, but chances are they are coming to you for more than visiting a new place and hearing a few speakers — they want to grow their skills, learn from industry leaders, and connect with new people within their community.
Which is why it’s important to foster an environment that is conducive to networking at your events. Not only are you helping your attendees enjoy your event in the moment by meeting new people, but by helping your them get to know one another, you’re allowing them to make connections that will stick with them all year long — which can be really powerful for your event’s longevity. This leaves them with a great impression of their time and incentive to attend again next year.
Not quite. Unfortunately, getting people out of their comfort zones and talking to new people so that they are able to successfully network can be harder than it seems. Left unguided, most people struggle to approach someone new or will look to their phones instead of engaging with the room. Which leaves many coordinators, who have put their heart and soul into creating these events, grasping for straws.
So, how can you help attendees leave your event feeling like they’ve met new people and that their time at your event was well spent?
That’s what we’re talking about today — if you’re a coordinator or organizer there is a lot you can do to help encourage networking at your event, get people out of their shells, and talking to the other attendees. Here are some of our favorite strategies…
#1 — Include small group discussions or breakout sessions between mainstage talks
Big, main stage talks can offer a lot of value to your attendees and hearing from those speakers can be one of the major incentives for attending. However, the odds are, they won’t be very interactive for your participants — leaving attendees with few opportunities to get to know one another.
Enter small breakout sessions. By splitting up your attendees into smaller sections, you make it easier for them to get out of their comfort zone Click To Tweet and start meeting new people. Which is exactly what makes small group activities or breakout sessions so powerful.
This can be done in a variety of different ways like:
- Having attendees divide up into discussion tables — Depending on your venue you can break out into roundtables or separate rooms and have event volunteers or past attendees lead the discussion.
- Hosting workshops — If you work in a specialized or hands-on industry, you can give experts time to meet with participants and lead a mini-lecture, with lots of hands-on time.
- Have industry leaders give shorter breakout talks — like workshops, smaller sessions with several industry leaders gives participants time to learn about a topic more in-depth with fewer people.
- Giving a small group Q&A time with your mainstage speakers for more individualized attention.
However you choose to organize this time, the most important thing to do for your attendees is to keep things interactive. So, have a meeting with your small group organizers and encourage them to work in time for participants to work together, ask questions, and participate. This can help break down some of those initial barriers between people and can foster greater connection.
#2 — Host an ‘after party’ after the first day of your event
If you’re running a multi-day event, another great way to encourage networking is by providing time at the end of sessions to allow attendees to get to know one another better.
Depending on the size or your event and your budget, you could offer dinner, play games, meet and greet with sponsors, go on a tour of the city, or just host drinks. Choose something that is appropriate for your industry and attendees, but make sure that whatever you do is hosted in a casual environment, where people have lots of flexibility to move around. This will help everyone feel good about meeting new people. Likewise, this will allow you to create a space where the attendees are relaxed enough to build on the relationships they began to form in the small group sessions earlier in the day.
If you’re worried that this time will be slow or awkwardly quiet, you can include a raffle, live music, or some type of entertainment to keep it rolling smoothly. Likewise, it could be useful you can also appoint one member of your senior staff to work as the MC for the night, to keep things moving.
#3 — Gamify networking throughout your event
Regardless of the type of event you have, being in a room with a thousand or so other attendees will never be conducive for your attendees to start networking. Yes, there will always be those very outgoing people who can meet new people in their sleep. But for the majority of attendees, it can feel really daunting to approach someone new.
By including a game component to your event, you can give people a reason to get out of their shells, talk to new people, and start networking.
The best part about gamitifying networking is that the possibilities are endless. You could…
- Give a bingo card to every attendee. Include different points of interest that would appeal to your attendees.
- Have attendees swap seats or meet the people sitting around them. This helps break the ice, put names to faces, and can make it easier for your attendees to approach one another after the sessions or during an ‘after party.’
- Host a speed ‘networking’ session by having everyone stand up and meet someone new for a minute or two and then switch.
Just to name a few!
Remember your attendees want to come away having connected with other people in their industry, and all you have to do is make it easy for them to get out of their own way. By adding a gamified component to your event, you can give them that extra push.
While every organizer wants their attendees to have a good time in the moment, leaving them with a lasting impression is also vital. By putting a focus on networking you can help attendees do both — enjoy their time during your event and leave feeling great and eager to come next year.
But it all comes down to creating lots of opportunities for your attendees to get out of their comfort zones, away from their phones, and connecting with the other people around them.
And begin creating lasting chances for your attendees to meet new people and feel positive about their experience.