Event planners are challenged now more than ever to #bringbacknetworking and make it great again! If this sounds like a campaign, that’s probably because it is. Networking has received a bad rep over the past few years and this could be because its purpose isn’t always clear, and guests genuinely do not know how to network effectively, but event experts can change all that. Here are our tips to boost networking at your events.
1. Rethink Your Venue and Setup
Remember our blog on unconventional venues and how we unpacked the influence event spaces have on the level of engagement at your event? This largely applies for events that are centred around networking. The common practice event planners lean towards, is booking a conference room with breakaway rooms allocated for networking. However, if you’re looking for interesting ways to boost networking it is important to consider innovative approaches convenient for guests. Planning your setup around forgotten environments like an elevator or stairs can add an interesting element to your event. Divert from the classroom style setup and use cocktail tables with no surrounding chairs to keep your guests moving. If you must have guests seated, mix up your guests list and ensure that people who have joint reserved seats do not sit next to one another.
2. To Tech Or Not To Tech
It’s pretty obvious that technology has made it easier for us to connect, more so for businesses and customers and how much more for events and attendees? Technology helps us connect instantly and promises longevity in our connection, so it’s a no brainer that this is on our list. Apps like LinkedIn make it easy to network with a click of a button outside of a formal event setting, so think about how effective it would be in a space with intentional networking strategies in place? Setting up gadgets with Social Media access (for professional Apps like Brella, BumbleBizz) in your venue automatically invites guests to make use of the gadgets - don’t be afraid to add this to your comms strategy so guests know for sure that these devices are available help them connect quicker.
These days it is frowned upon to have an event without Wi-Fi - it should be on your list of Event Must-Haves. Why not use it to make the most of your networking strategy?
Think about adding a social media wall to your event where live feeds are visible to all attendees. In this way, attendees can see each other’s posts and choose to engage on posted topics or meet with each other to further explore perspectives. The wall is also great for attendees to refer to after the event to see any conversations they may have missed, as well as guests they may not have had the chance to talk to.
Some people might argue that technology lessens face-to-face interaction at events but, when it’s done right, tech can boost networking beyond the event experience.
3. Introduce Games
Networking can be a bit nerve-wrecking. As an event planner it is your job to make it as easy as possible for your guests to start conversations with one another. Games are a good way to put people at ease so why not create an opportunity for ice-breakers to get your guests talking? Games that have proven to be successful include:
- Speed Dating: If your event is restricted by time, a speed dating format will be perfect for networking.
- Human Bingo: Make a list of the various topics of interest according to your event theme and encourage guests to form groups according to their response to the topics.
- Name Tag Swop: Swop your attendees name tags during the registration process to initiate conversation between guest.
4. Control Your Content
The term ‘less is more’ is popularly used in the event industry to describe décor style or a speakers’ keynote address, but we found it fitting to use for our next tip for boosting networking at events. Content makes up about 70 – 80 percent of our events and while the focus is to share information with guests, we’ve found that people take away more from events when they fully participate and engage in conversation. Now this can be tricky because you need to have control of the desired outcome of your event but if the purpose of your event is to have people network, then prioritise the engagement aspect by structuring your event so that less time is spent on sharing content and more time given to engagement. You can do this by controlling the agenda and how much time is given to speakers versus the announcements that need to be shared. It’s important however to say that cutting down communication time means, once you put out your message, it is communicated effectively.
5. Control Number of Guests
An obstacle that often goes un-noticed with event networking is the number of attendees present and the time allocated for the exercise. Most events often include guest interaction as an extra activity on the agenda and therefore it’s given a limited time and is often left to play out without structure. Depending on how flexible your event is and based on its purpose and objectives, question whether it is beneficial to create a large pool of people to network within a limited period of time or whether it is better to control the number of guests so that those attending can fully benefit from the session? This should help guests get the most out of your networking activity.
When planning a networking event make sure you’re planning with the guests and the event objective in mind from start to finish. Make it count.