If we boil it down to the basics, people attend events for two reasons – to build knowledge and make new connections. And while we, as event planners do, allocate ample resources to bringing in inspiring speakers, the networking part is frequently overlooked.
But with networking being cited by 75% of delegates as one of the main attendance drivers, we need to start taking peer networking seriously if we hope to keep our events relevant.
As with many things in life, the simplest solution is often the most effective. The same rule applies to networking.
Speed-networking is probably the simplest way to facilitate the meetings of individuals that I know. And its impact always amazes me.
What is the goal of speed-networking?
Speed networking is a meeting format designed to accelerate business contacts. It involves multiple people that come together in a single space with the aim to meet new people and exchange information. Participants introduce each other and talk for a set period of time in a series of brief exchanges.
What’s in it for your attendees?
In contrast to traditional event networking that is often left to chance, there are a number of benefits:
- Each participant is guaranteed to meet new people
- It relieves participants of the stress of introductions as all attendees have a single purpose
- It rids the awkward “exit” by having time limits
Having covered the basics, let’s go over the organization of a speed-networking session step by step.
1. Set up the right space arrangements
Speed-networking sessions usually start in an open room for mingling. In contrast to station-based concepts that look too rigid to me, I love the simple open-space networking concept where people just walk freely around the room and meet other people.
That, however, means booking a room that is spacious enough for accommodating all your attendees and providing them with enough space to walk around.
But it can be easily set. If you host your event in rooms with movable chairs. Simply move the furniture to the walls and create space in the center.
2. Introduce the rules
Before the session kicks off, it’s common practice for a host or a facilitator to explain the ground rules. Despite the fact that the concept is simple, not everyone may be familiar with it. So as part of the introduction, make sure to:
- Explain the concept
- Announce how long each round will last (3, 5, 10 minutes)
- Introduce the buzzer (so people know when to change their partners)
3. Provide the networking basics
Many delegates come to an event to meet new people, but not all of them know how to network correctly.
You can help them a bit.
Before facilitating one of my own speed-networking sessions, I provided the audience with the best networking practices and suggested a few opening lines that had worked for me in the past.
Then I let them brainstorm a few of their own so they had a list of conversation openers ready before I started the networking.
Naturally, you can skip this part and jump straight into the networking. Or you can announce fun questions to help kickstart the conversations.
Extra Tip: To make things simpler for your delegates, you can prepare a list of light-hearted, topic-related questions. Facilitating the networking at the event for the creative industry, I prepared a dozen questions about creativity to refer to the overall theme.
E.g., “What was the weirdest thing you’ve ever worn? When was the last time you wrote something with your hand?”
For each networking round, I gave participants one of the questions to open the conversation with. It was a great kickstarter followed by a lively discussion.
4. Track time and announce the rounds
The sessions start with the ring of a bell that announces the first round. Rounds usually last three to five minutes, but you can easily extend their duration based on your audience. Once the time is up, the facilitator rings a bell to call for the next round of meetings.
5. Make sure people have time to continue the talks
Finally, make sure to leave ample time for the participants to continue their conversations and hold follow-up meetings. Therefore, it’s a good idea to organize the speed-networking session before a lunch break or cocktail party during which people can develop their conversations further.
If endorsing networking at your events is among your priorities (and hopefully it is), the speed-networking format is an amazingly effective vehicle to facilitate the meeting of your delegates.
Follow the tips above to facilitate an engaging session that may become the most valuable part at the event for many delegates. After all, meeting one “right” person can be worth all the costs associated with the attendance.