Networking – always unique!
It’s something you see on almost every advert for a conference: “This event offers excellent networking opportunities”. But do they? At our events we bang on about the number of people attending like this is a virtue but how can you speak to all of these people? If we take a step back can we actually say that the events we organize are ideal for networking? When we are selling to potential exhibitors to take stands alongside the conference we always talk about the amount of breaks, which the argument goes, allows them to guarantee time with the delegates. But does it?
Don’t talk to me when I am filling my face or emptying my bladder!
Most of the ‘networking’ takes place on the traditional programme during registration, coffee x 2 and lunch. And isn’t that just the best time to talk and listen to other people as they queue and busy themselves in either filling their bellies or emptying their bladders? Now of course this is obvious to all who attend but a lot of conferences still bounce you in to believing that the networking experiences they offer are ‘unique’. Like cream, the best networkers make it to the top but what about everyone else who has bought into your great conference and its’ unique networking opportunities?
Let’s be honest about our conference and exhibition networking
We have to be honest and admit networking is a myth and we must deliver more quality networking and build it into our events. So with this in mind here’s 10 things you can do to improve the networking at your conference:
1. Allocate table places at the start of the day. Split groups up, put suppliers on the tables with their target customers, or big companies with small to allow compare and contrast in discussions
2. Use cabaret format as it gently forces people to say hello to everyone on their tables (theatre style probably means you will speak to two people at the most during the sessions)
3. Aim to get people in the main room at least 10mins before the first session, allow them time to chat and introduce themselves
4. View ‘breaks’ as just that as a break not the only opportunity to network and ensure everyone has some time to soak up the learning and have a coffee in peace
5. Mix tables up for the afternoon
6. Build networking into many of your sessions. Allow delegates the time to talk about something from every session, or make sure you add ‘table discussion’ time at the end of each part of the day
7. Embrace technology. Allow and facilitate 1-2-1 meetings arranged on line at your event
8. Help your delegates take their networking off line by using blogs and other social media
9. Add something exciting or different to your programme that gives your delegates something to talk about
10. Dedicate time to networking outside of the breaks, perhaps adding add a quiet informal drinks reception, with no entertainment, after the conference or an informal dinner before
I’ve deliberately stayed away from listing ways of ‘forcing networking’ like colour cards or badges, or finding a particular person by birth date, or code words or the like. So I’ve humbly suggested ways in which we can less obviously help those less likely to get the networking value from your conference. Good luck! And happy and successful networking.