There are two main reasons why people attend events – knowledge building and networking. While event organizers dedicate lots of attention to the former, networking activities are frequently neglected, which is a great pity.
In fact, Dan Schawbel’s recent study revealed that 86% of millennial attendees expect networking opportunities from events!
With more millennials in the audience, creating networking opportunities at events will be crucial for the success of your event.
The good news is that it’s not rocket science and you can help people get to know one another with literally no budget. All you need is a solid idea for a networking activity and a skillful facilitator.
Here are 7 simple ideas for organizing effective networking sessions that will help your attendees get more out of your event:
Martijn Timmermans facilitated a fantastic story-telling session at FRESH14 conference in Copenhagen. After introducing the importance of storytelling, he divided the audience into groups of five and gave everyone a pen and a sheet of paper.
Supported by the ambient set-up, every group member was asked to write a story about the most innovative event he or she had helped to organize and then share it with the rest of the group. Revealing, connecting, icebreaking!
Identifying conference experiences
At the EMEC 2015, the organizers invited first-timers as well as veterans for the interactive networking session – EMEC for Me – Getting the most out of your conference experience before the official programme started.
During the session, the facilitator, Mike van der Vijver, divided people into groups of two or three and asked them to think of the experience they would like to get at EMEC and describe it in words. (E.g. I want my experience to be like a roller-coaster ride in the amusement park. I want it to be thrilling and I want to share this ride with other passengers – delegates.)
Then participants needed to identify three must-see sessions that would help them create this experience and share the list with the rest of the groups.
Not only did attendees meet new people; they also prepared a mental plan for how they could get the most out of the conference.
Learning to network
Many delegates come to an event to meet new people, but not all of them know how to network correctly. Therefore you need to help them a bit. During the EMEC session, Mike placed delegates into pairs and had them come up with three questions which they could open a conversation with when meeting a new person.
Then he let them ask these questions and give each other their feedback. After the session, the EMEC delegates were equipped with powerful conversation opening questions.
This is another simple yet powerful networking tip. Prepare a list of light-hearted questions for your delegates, such as “What do you like about your hometown? What was your favorite subject in high school?” etc.
For each one-minute networking round, make your attendees walk around the room and find a person to whom they can briefly tell their name and then ask the question. When the time is up, give them the next question and make them find another person.
Divide your audience into groups of five-eight, assign them a discussion topic and let them share their knowledge and experience with one another for 10 minutes. When the time is up, let them choose another table with a new topic and new participants. The conversations will naturally continue after the session is over.
This is probably the easiest trick you could think of. Don’t let your attendees sit next to the same people throughout the entire day. Make them change their seats after the breaks and introduce themselves to the participants sitting next to them.
This is an awesome idea by Startup Grind. In front of the venue, they put up a banner with the networking guidelines that clearly explained which introduction tactics are given a thumbs up and which are looked down upon. This helped to set the right expectations and encouraged attendees to make new friends.
You can get creative and place posts with networking tips around your venue to give your attendees a push to start meeting others.
How do you create networking opportunities at your events? Do you try to connect your delegates? Please share your tips with us in the comments below.