Networking is one of the top reasons people attend events. But for many of us, it’s a love-hate relationship. Starting a conversation with a stranger can be intimidating, and throwing a “Network Here” sign on the door doesn’t make it any easier.
How can you help event attendees connect in meaningful ways while making networking more approachable and fun? Here are a few approaches we have found effective.
1. Ask attendees what they want
“Who do you want to meet, and what do you want to discuss?”
Do attendees want to connect with peers in their industry, or other young professionals who are new to the field? Do they want to discuss the latest industry regulations, or perhaps how women are breaking down organizational barriers? Ask your audiences directly. Use online surveys, social media polls or live meetings to crowdsource attendees’ input.
These insights will help you decide which meetup topics and formats will most resonate with your audience. And, attendees will appreciate being included in the planning process.
2. Jumpstart conversations
Big rooms with high top tables just don’t cut it anymore. It’s time to integrate fresh new formats and elements that will give attendees something to talk about (literally).
Moderated meetups prompt networking and conversation organically. Designated moderators - experts in the field or trained speakers - can keep discussions moving with questions and thought starters, providing conversation topics to respond to in small groups or pairs.
Fill-in-the-blank stickers can be quick, playful (and cheap) conversation starters. Examples include:
- “Let’s talk about _____.”
- “Anyone else struggling with _____?”
- “My job title should be ______.”
If you want a more premium option than stickers, try pre-printed dry erase badges.
3. Be in the right place, at the right time
Networking can happen anytime, anywhere, but there may be opportune moments in your event schedule to capitalize on.
One of the most common missed opportunities occurs after a popular speaker or breakout session. The most compelling speakers and topics will leave attendees itching to ask questions, discuss implications and expand on the topics discussed. Provide a space for them to do so. Invite attendees to meet at a nearby pop up networking space after sessions to continue the conversation with speakers and fellow attendees.
4. Make new attendees feel welcome
Mentor matching connects newcomers with experienced event alumni. Match first time attendees with select event alumni in a similar role or industry, who can act as resources both before the event and onsite. First timers will feel more at ease coming into the event with an existing connection, and appreciate having a go-to contact for questions and recommendations. Alumni too are excited to share their knowledge and welcome new attendees to the community.
Alumni volunteers should be 3+ year event veterans, and may or may not be a representative of the brand or organizing association.