Increase Networking at Conferences and Events
Conferences and other business events have evolved over the years. Years ago, the primary incentive for attending a conference was the content and learning experiences for professional development. But, times have changed. While it is great to be inspired and to learn at conferences, the most valuable asset of a conference is the people you meet and the relationships you can form and nurture. Business development has become everyone’s job. The quality of the networking opportunities provided by events is just as important (if not more important) to potential attendees than the content offered. Hence, the need for planners to explore ways to increase networking at conferences and events.
Increase networking before the event even begins
If your policies allow you to do so, consider sharing attendee contact lists with all registrants and sponsors prior to the event. Doing so will allow attendees to plan ahead: They can schedule meetups and reach out to peers ahead of time to make their actual conference time more efficient. The benefit to sponsors is similar: Sharing attendee lists gives them the opportunity to invite potential clients to their exhibitor booths or private events.
Many conferences are now offering VIP lounges as perks for elite attendees, but this opportunity can also be offered on a smaller scale for the average attendee. Some of the best brainstorming occurs in office Break Rooms. So, why not bring that concept to your event as a place where people can connect? It can even be set up with a few water coolers and coffee bars. Throw in a few lounge areas and a couple of conference tables, and voila! You’ve created a space for people to network between training sessions!
It may sound a bit hokey to some, but Speed Networking can be a very effective way to bring people together. Not only is it a fun social exercise, if done right, it could be a great business development tool. Some conferences target first-timers for similar programs, allowing them to visit with veteran conference-goers. Others try to link people up with potential clients. Social Tables provides a few different takes on Speed Networking that may work for your group, including a session where attendees get to network with conference presenters.
“Meet the Speaker”
If Speed Networking doesn’t quite fit your culture, consider offering a “Meet the Speaker” forum to allow attendees to interact with conference presenters in an informal, smaller, and more intimate scale. You could add this as an option at registration, or pass around sign-up forms at each speaker’s presentation. Another option to incorporate a “Meet the Speaker” forum into your conference structure is to have it sponsored and available to VIPs only.
Hotel bars don’t have to be the only place your attendees go to socialize after business hours. If mixing and mingling over adult beverages are what your constituency likes best, create the hotel bar atmosphere for them! Or better yet, take your happy hour event to a bar. Not only will it increase networking, but it’s also sure to be a big hit!
City Tours, Excursions, and Outings
Most people traveling for business don’t build in time to do any sightseeing. Incorporating optional excursions midway through a multi-day conference is a good way to add value to the event while increasing networking opportunities. Find out what your host city has to offer, and select two options that fit your group well. Then, just sit back and let the magic happen! Your guests will be able to relax while making connections. It takes the work out of “doing business” and creates a memorable experience for all. That’s a win-win in any event planner’s book!