Recent research indicates that 75% of delegates attend conferences to build new connections. Yet, the networking part of events is often reduced to unstructured “mix and mingle” coffee breaks.
While this works well for some, it doesn’t hit the mark for everyone. Some people dread the idea of going up to a stranger and need a little nudge to start a conversation.
With a fresh concept and some good facilitation, you can create an environment where people get to know each other and learn something new while having a good time.
These 7 practical tips will help you turn your event into a place where networking will be one of the best parts of the day.
Tell me a story
According to academic experts, 70% of what we learn is through stories.
Sharing stories can help the attendees learn from each other and bond with fellow delegates. Facilitator Martijn Timmermans used this idea at the FRESH14 Conference in Copenhagen.
He split the audience into groups of five and asked each person to write a story about the most innovative event he or she had organized.
The attendees took 10 minutes to reflect and note down the key points using the pens and papers provided. Then, in turn, each group member narrated his or her professional achievements to the rest of the group.
It helped create an environment where people could not only inspire one another but also connect on a personal level.
Extra tip: You can ask “What is the most successful project you’ve ever worked on?” or “What is your biggest success to date?” according to the audience’s background.
Make it a competition
To take the pressure off the attendees and enliven your event, why not turn networking into an entertaining contest?
Icebreaker games are a fun and informal way to connect the attendees and make them feel more comfortable in a group of strangers. Bonding through group activities also makes it easier for people to strike up a follow-up conversation.
To help people learn more about each other, organize an ongoing Top 10 Quiz or Human Bingo, or get people to play Two Truths and a Lie. Here are detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to run these activities.
For single-person competitions, ask each attendee to collect as many business cards as possible by the end of the event. This format works well in both dedicated networking slots and as an all-day competition that runs in the background. Offer the winner a prize to incentivize the attendees.
To take it a step further, you can execute these gamified networking ideas using live polls. It is an extremely effective way to engage a large crowd instantly and get people’s attention. For inspiration, here are 30 examples of live polling questions.
Make networking the best part of your event. See how Slido can help.
Want to help your event attendees meet as many people as possible in a short amount of time? Turn your traditional coffee break into a speed networking session.
This format comprises a set number of rounds with a fixed amount of time per round (usually one minute) where people have a chance to talk to a new person before they move up to the next one.
To use this format, split the audience into two groups and seat them in two parallel rows facing each other. Prepare a list of light-hearted questions, e.g., “What do you like about your hometown?” or “What was your favorite subject in high school?”
For each networking round, the attendees introduce themselves and ask one question. When the time is up, give them another question and instruct them to move on to the next person.
The structured nature of speed networking helps to take the pressure off and connect people.
Design your event experience
It’s easier to have a great experience at any meeting or event when you are clear about what you want to get out of it from the start.
To help their attendees get this straight before the official program started, the organizers of EMEC 2015 set up an interactive networking session, “EMEC for Me.”
The session facilitator, Mike van der Vijver, split people into groups of two or three. He asked people to describe what experience they would like to have at the conference.
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 – the other delegates.
The participants then identified three must-see sessions that would help them create this experience and shared the list with the other groups.
Not only did the attendees meet new people, they also prepared a mental plan on how they could get the most out of the conference.
Coffee break assignments
Do you want your attendees to enjoy their coffee break with a refreshing twist? At Eventex 2016, meeting designer and facilitator Jan-Jaap In Der Maur invited people to network by giving them coffee break assignments.
At the end of the session, the moderator instructed the attendees to meet three new people during the upcoming break and ask them: What’s your story? How did you get to do what you’re doing?
When people returned after the break, Jan-Jaap asked the participants to pass around the Catchbox—a throwable microphone—while music played in the background. When the music stopped, the person caught holding the microphone shared one of the stories he or she had learned about the others during the break.
It’s not only a fun way to get to hear inspiring stories; the activity gives people a series of talking points on which they can follow up.
Customized delegate list
Have you got your delegate list ready? Go a step further and customize it for each participant.
Give each attendee a bespoke list of people he or she should reach out to based on the attendee’s specific interests indicated prior to or at the start of the event.
This cost-effective format leaves the networking process up to the people to decide when, where and how they want to connect with their matches. Giving the attendees a list of people with whom they have common interests immediately gives them a topic to open a conversation.
It also makes the process much easier for event organizers as they don’t have to worry about fitting in networking time with the individual schedules of hundreds or thousands of attendees.
Roundtable networking allows for idea sharing and collaboration through open discussion among the attendees. Such formats are often viewed as less intimidating, as they take the pressure off the individual. A popular example of this format is a world cafe session.
Divide your audience into groups of 5-8, assign each table a discussion topic and let people share their knowledge and experience for 10 minutes. When the time is up, let the attendees choose another table with a different topic.
Alternatively, you can crowdsource the discussion topics through Slido live Q&A feature and let the audience upvote the best ones. You can allocate one topic per table and let people select their favorite one.
It’s a great way to meet people and learn something from them. The conversations will naturally continue after the session is over.
Extra tip: While it is common to have open seating, you can seat your attendees strategically based on their industry, job title, region, preferred themes for discussion, etc.
Vamp up your next event with fun networking activities. These 7 ideas for running effective networking sessions will help your attendees meet more people, learn something new and ultimately get the most out of your event.