A big part of events, meetings, and conferences is relationship building. To be honest, that's all networking really is. Whether you're at an internal corporate event (like a sales kick-off conference) or a large trade show or expo, we hope to connect with people and build business relationships. So how do we encourage networking at events?
Here are 4 quick tips, based on our experience attending and exhibiting at many events:
1. Provide free food and drinks.
It sounds silly, but we all know it's true. If you open up a bar by the exhibitors on the expo floor, it's likely attendees will stick around and chat while munching and sipping. Even if you don't drink alcohol, it can be very entertaining to watch others drink. Have wine and cheese offered at the end of a session, and people will stick around to discuss the topics covered. Remember, the late afternoon is the most social (and happy!) hour of the day! Leverage that.
2. Use games.
There are countless ways to gamify events to engage attendees. There are many ways to include game mechanics in your event app, but you can also make games in real life - contests, competitions, and scavenger hunts. Raffles are more passive and do not encourage networking in the way a scavenger hunt will. Something that is easy, intuitive and ultimately useful will be the most successful. Think about your attendee demographics and their goals for being at the show.
3. Leverage name badges.
This sounds intuitive. However, it's shocking to see how many events and conferences I go to where the name on my badge is barely legible. When I have to squint and lean in to read a person's name, it makes for an unnecessarily awkward introduction. Don't make it so hard on us. Get rid of the big sponsorship ads and use that real estate for simple details that are easy conversation starters, like company, title, city, or interests. If you make it legible you will start to hear things like, "Hey, you live in San Francisco? I do too!" or "Oh, I see you work at Four Barrel? I've been looking to connect with someone at your company!" Brilliant.
4. Get a socially-enabled mobile app for your event.
There's so much you can do here (obviously, this is a space we love). Attendees continually hide behind their phones and tablets at events, so why not facilitate networking while doing it? Ask your mobile app vendor if they offer people matching, which allows for users to find others with similar interests, follow their activity at the event, and message them. Event apps that have social media integration, location-based check-ins, and activity feeds allow users to identify where they should be to meet the people they care about. In this digital era of online dating and social networking, some people even find it easier to meet virtually before meeting in real life. Not all, but many.
You can see how engaging mobile apps can make for a highly social event in this video.
Since attendees highly value networking at events, event marketers, organizers, and planners have to consider those needs.
What are other good ways to encourage networking at events?