Richard Branson once said that “succeeding in business is all about making connections.” We all know how important networking is. It’s about sowing the seeds and nurturing them – it’s not about a hard sell.
People attend events for two main reasons: one is to stay abreast of industry news and updates; and the other is to meet new or existing connections, perhaps colleagues or potential clients. Therefore, networking opportunities will be at the forefront of delegates’ minds when they choose whether or not to attend an event. Luckily, physical events remain an excellent networking platform. With most conversations happening online, the chance to meet up with someone in person is invaluable.
Plus, the more connections your delegates make or nurture at your event, the more positive vibes they will go away with!
So the million dollar question is, how do you get your delegates to connect and network at your event? These five tips will help…
1. Pre-event conversations
The power of networking can get to work even before your event day comes around. Get some pre-event chatter happening online by adopting some of these approaches:
● Promote your event on social media and get a conversation going around…
- Conference topics
- Any announcements – agendas, speakers, what to bring
- Any special offers you are running, such as early bird tickets
● Create a separate event ‘group’ on Facebook or LinkedIn that people on the delegate list can join. This is a great way for people to see who else is attending and to check in with them prior to the
● Create an event hashtag. Using a hashtag, and encouraging your attendees to use it, will put all of your content in one place so that people can keep up to date with what’s happening. By starting conversations online before the day, people will be more committed to attend your event.
2. Create networking opportunities on the day
The next step is to try and make it as easy as possible for people to network on the day:
● Build time into your schedule for networking
You could opt to have dedicated networking sessions marked on your agenda, such as a 10-minute speed networking slot before the first speaker. Or, you might decide to schedule in extended breaks for people to naturally start to mingle, such as 15 minutes before lunch is served.
● Create the right environment
This one depends on your venue, but if you can, offer your delegates meeting rooms that they can hire out during the day. Purpose built break-out spaces are important if you’re encouraging people to network; how about some 1-2-1 booths?
● Facilities and furniture
Sometimes the little things can make a huge difference! What furniture will you have in your communal/break-out spaces? Small stand-around tables are ideal to encourage people to mingle, because they offer somewhere to put a drink down or leave a brochure, therefore encouraging new conversation! Also, think about what people need to network successfully; an old-fashioned notepad and pen will always do the trick.
● Hospitality and catering
One sure-fire way to lose delegates throughout the day is by not providing the right food and drink. If you have good catering on site throughout the day and accommodate their needs, they won’t have a reason to need to leave the venue. Every minute spent inside is valuable networking time!
3. Offer networking tips
For those new to networking, or those that need a bit of a refresher, consider compiling and sending out some networking tips in advance of the day. That way, your delegates won’t be daunted when they see the networking sessions timetabled in! Here are some examples:
- Be interested in the other person
- It’s ok to (politely) interrupt another conversation
- Don’t spread yourself too thin
- Be specific about what you do
- Find out what others are looking for
4. Let people know who else is attending
Consider making your delegate list available to attendees prior to the event so that delegates can plan who they want to meet up with. On the day, remember to print delegate badges with a name and business name on. It will make it easier for people to approach each other – and remember the names of those they met earlier in the day!
5. Try some anti-tech approaches
Finally, we all know what a struggle we have on our hands to get people’s attention away from phone screens. If you’re nervous, it’s a natural defence to get your phone out and stare at it! Get ahead of the game with one of these suggestions:
- Phones in a box! Controversial? Definitely, but refreshing too! Encourage your delegates to put their phones in the middle of the table and go back to talking face-to-face rather than avoiding in
person conversations – even if you promise it’s just for five minutes!
- Ice breakers. These are great sessions that get everyone out of their comfort zones by giving them something to talk about. For example, first thing in the morning you could ask delegates to
tell everyone on their table something about themselves that not many people know! Ice breakers not only work well to get people talking initially, but also gives a topic of conversation for later on at the bar.