As much as we’d like to believe people come to our events for our sheer entertainment value, it’s much more likely they’ve carved time away from their busy schedules in order to make new contacts. In fact, other than learning something new, networking is the strongest reason people cite when deciding whether or not to attend an event. When you boil it all down, all business is conducted by human beings and human beings are social creatures. They are motivated by meeting new people, sharing ideas and extending their professional network.
So in the spirit of giving the people what they came for, here are 5 proven ways to maximize the amount of networking at your next event.
You can’t please everybody all the time, so in order to foster an environment for meaningful networking you’ll need to establish some common themes to bring the right people together. Luckily this is fairly straightforward and simply comes to down to truly understanding the needs of your target audience. Who is this event for specifically? Why should they attend? Is this a high-level event with advanced content and speakers? Or is this a more general event geared for newbies or people with a passing interest in a new topic?
Once you know who you are targeting, you can then develop the content they will find the most interesting. The reason this is so important is that people will evaluate your event based on their needs, not on how difficult it was securing the keynote speaker. By curating the content to a targeted niche group you’ll ensure that everyone in the room will have a common interest, a tie that binds them together.
A great way to ensure relevancy is to run an informal survey or poll to your target audience asking them about your proposed content and speakers, and where they fall on their needs and interest scale. As you get a better picture of their needs, you can open your marketing up to as many channels as possible. You should always aim for a mix of people from existing groups and new faces, especially if it’s a recurring event.
Try to secure a venue with multiple rooms and settings. Don’t put the coffee table in the back of the room where the speaker will be. Instead, create designated spaces for transition areas – places where the crowd will funnel through between workshops or presentations. These quick 15-30 minute interludes often create the best interactions due to their casual and brief nature. Their brevity moves the focus away from the forced small talk and typically includes candid and spontaneous feedback about the most recent talk or next speaker. If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that 1-hour blitz networking blocks scheduled into the agenda usually come off as uncomfortable, inauthentic and forced.
By keeping the networking light and fluid you’ll provide your attendees with the opportunity to meet the most people and not get stuck with same 2 people for an hour, or fall into the trap of only talking to people they already know. Keep movement in mind when you’re designing your event flow and room layout, and you’ll boost networking more than a speed dating session ever could.
Now that people carry supercomputing bricks everywhere they go, technology has been bursting onto the scene at events. There are some really amazing products out there that can fuel the networking fire at your event, in fact that’s how Meetmaps was first created. Our mission is to use technology to showcase all of the event attendees, organizers, speakers and sponsors in one dynamic, visual platform. Put the faces and names of your audience on display, either projected on the wall or spread across your smartphone screen, and you’ll provide a visual way to break the ice and make notes of who you’d like to meet.
By taking a “face-first” approach to networking, Meetmaps extend the lifespan of your event by allowing everyone to interact seamlessly before, during and after the event ends. When they see the filters and tagging options, your guests will be able to maximize the interaction time with people they truly care about meeting, and less time tracking down faceless contacts.
#Loosen Your Tie
Authentic encounters occur when authenticity is in the air. Your attendees will take their cues from the organizing staff, speakers and MCs. Make sure they’re all collectively sending out the right vibe. Try to avoid coming off too rigid or professional in the early part of your event, from the registration booth to the first onstage introductions. Make sure your staff is friendly, smiling and lighthearted while welcoming your guests. When you or your MC takes the stage to start the show, really try to boost the energy level and enthusiasm using jokes and self-efficacy. It will put the crowd at ease and make your entire event seem more approachable and authentic. Doing this right from the start is critical for setting the tone of your entire event.
People don’t like small talk. In fact, most people loathe small talk. However, alcohol is the magic elixir that can make annoying chit-chat a lot more interesting. It’s amazing what a glass of wine or two can do for the interaction level of your event. Introverts especially may appreciate the availability of some liquid courage to warm up to strangers.
Be careful to match your bar’s offering to your audience. While most people can appreciate an open bar, you don’t want people dancing on tables by the end of the event. Typically, enough beer and wine to provide everyone with a drink or two is enough to rev the networking engine into high gear. Furthermore, most alcohol brands will entertain an offer to provide your event with free drinks in exchange for sponsorship or visibility, especially if your attendees match their target market.
We sort of cheated with that last one. Of course alcohol boosts networking, but sometimes the most obvious solutions are the ones most easily overlooked, especially if you’ve been drinking…
Enough about us. What are some of your favorite ways to boost networking at your events?