How to encourage networking at events
Events and conferences are as much about networking (and socialising) as they are the sessions. Most attendees will only judge the event a success if they were able to connect with like-minded people and valuable contacts.
More often than not the focus for event planners is on the presentations, speakers and sessions, neglecting the all-important networking side of things. We’ve compiled these practical tips and advice to ensure that the social and networking element of your event is as successful as the sessions.
Schedule regular breaks
The best way to encourage networking at your event is to give attendees the time and space to connect. It seems like an obvious point, but conference planners are still focussing on delivering as many talks as possible within their event. Having regular breaks throughout the day actually helps attendees concentrate during the sessions and also gives them a good opportunity to network.
As a general rule, morning and afternoon coffee breaks should be half an hour and at least one hour for lunch. This gives attendees enough time to grab a drink, check their emails, visit the bathroom and, of course, network.
Consider offering a prompt by including these breaks in your event agenda as ‘networking break’.
Give attendees a 10 and five minute warning of when sessions are due to reconvene. If you are engaged in an in-depth conversation, it’s hard to keep an eye on the time.
Build an online event community
As part of the promotion of your event, create an online community where participants can connect. This can then be used before, during and after your event. LinkedIn is the ideal platform for this as attendees can spend time researching and scheduling meetings with people who are relevant to them and their business. You can also use Facebook events for a less formal approach.
Creating a group on LinkedIn is simple, quick and flexible. It allows you to personalise the page with your own event branding. Once you’ve created your group, remember to promote this in your event marketing material, both on and offline.
Kick off the conversation by posting a question or topic relevant to the event. Check out our guide to Using LinkedIn for Event Marketing for some tips.
Simple name badges
Anyone who has attended an event before will arrive expecting to wear a name badge. Ensure your name badges are a help and not a hindrance by keeping the information simple and easy-to-read. Include the person’s full name and company name. If your event covers many different sectors, consider colour coding to differentiate. This way, attendees can easily identify relevant people to network with.
If you’re planning on using an event app, more on this later, it may also be beneficial to include a QR code. Ensure that this is clear and doesn’t compromise the clarity of the other information on the badge. This allows attendees and exhibitors to scan the code with their phones and save the important information without the need for exchanging business cards.
Master Pastrycooks Association of NSW Annual Ball via Powerhouse Museum
Creative networking ideas
Many people will see scheduled breaks as a chance to check their emails, catch up on Facebook or read the news. It’s not uncommon to see a crowd of people all glued to their phones instead of chatting with one another, especially if you have a lot of inexperienced event goers. As the event organiser it’s up to you to encourage networking.
One idea is to arrange informal talks with industry experts and event speakers in small groups over lunch. These talks add extra value to your events and group similar attendees together, therefore creating the perfect platform for networking.
You could add posters to walls and tables in the breakout areas with a question that relates to the theme of your event. This gives inexperienced or introverted attendees a cue and discussion point on which to start their networking. Twitter walls are also good at encouraging debate.
Make your event stand out with lunchtime activities. These don’t have to be directly related to your event topic, but it does help. For example, a marketing conference or seminar could put on creative workshops such as painting, digital art or calligraphy. Many people find it easier to socialise or network in smaller informal groups.
Members of the Royal Victoria School for the Blind Brownies 1962 via Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Make use of breakout spaces
A well thought-out breakout space can add real value by offering attendees the optimum face-to-face networking environment. Here are some top tips about how to optimise your next event’s breakout space to encourage networking.
Provide small standing tables for attendees to gather round during the break. These take up much less space than sit-down tables and encourage people flow.
You should also consider various seating options to help guests feel comfortable and to accommodate different needs. Consider segmenting your breakout space into a casual networking space and a quieter, more private space for people to conduct one-to-one meetings.
Tea and coffee stations are often the busiest areas. Ensure that there is enough space for passers by to move freely past the inevitable queues.
If you are offering lunch at your event, experts recommend using round tables as people naturally make connections when facing one another; a simple, but highly effective tip.
Breakout space ideas
If the space allows, consider dedicating an area for first-time event attendees. This gives inexperienced or introverted delegates the chance to meet people in a similar situation, therefore making them more confident to start a conversation. Who wouldn’t want to meet someone to walk to the first talk with, or even meet again for lunch?
Due to our reliance on technology, some attendees may find it easier to ‘meet’ someone online before meeting face-to-face. There are a number of networking apps available that attendees may already be using. You can also encourage social sharing with a media wall and event hashtag. You can even integrate this digital networking into your event app, giving people yet another opportunity to find like-minded people to network with. Read our how to guide on Live-Tweeting at Events.
Keep people in the venue
In order to encourage networking, you need attendees. Give people a reason to stay in the venue during breaks by providing decent tea and coffee throughout the event. The stand out word here is ‘decent’. Don’t scrimp on costs; people won’t stick around for budget refreshments, even if they are free.
Go one step further by organising a free meetup after the event itself. Offer complimentary wine and nibbles alongside a more casual networking opportunity.
Event networking apps
With our reliance on technology continuing to soar, consider using an event app to make it even easier for people to network.
Apps that have LinkedIn integration, matchmaking facilities, name badge scanners and an activity feed are great because they allow users to prioritise who they meet as well as to make the most of any networking opportunities available during the event.
City telephone room via The Library of Virginia
Provide new attendees with tips
Younger attendees may not have much experience attending events, let alone networking. Send an email a week before the event with tips on how to make the most of their networking time. Common questions include:
• How to introduce yourself when networking at an event?
• Good questions to ask whilst networking?
• How to follow up after a networking with someone at an event?
Ice-breaker ideas for professionals
Event Manager Blog warns, “With so much time nowadays spent on online interactions, real, face to face human interaction is even more important. Networking can however be a huge cause of large anxiety for many introverted attendees.”
There are a number of ways you as an event organiser can help kick off networking. Instead of leaving it to chance, think about including a professional icebreaker game or activity such as:
• Business card collection competition Give delegates 15 minutes to fast network with the aim to talk to as many people as possible. The person with the most business cards at the end wins a prize.
• Photo opportunity People love to share photos, make it even more appealing by including a branded ‘photo stop’. Thanks to the popularity, this photo gimmick acts as a great ‘water cooler’, giving people a chance to meet whilst waiting in the inevitable queue. This can be anything from a branded event frame to something much larger such as this VW camper at Brighton SEO.
20 Bedford Way – Event & networking venue in London
Looking for a venue for your next event? 20 Bedford Way boasts flexible breakout spaces including the Crush Hall interval bar with catering. Our flagship venue Logan Hall has adjoining spaces that can be utilised for networking. We are affordable and located in Bloomsbury with unrivalled transport connections. Speak to us today about how we can facilitate your next event. Call us on 020 7612 6143.
Main image Spoonbills via Powerhouse Museum Collection