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Wondering how to keep your audience engaged during events? In this guide, we delve into how to provide meaningful event networking opportunities to attendees without taking away from the sessions, speakers, and overall event.
While the purpose of meetings and events is for knowledgeable speakers to share information with their audience, there’s another important reason why attendees attend in-person, virtual or hybrid events. Many of them are seeking to increase their network and meet valuable people to build connections with.
There’s an old saying: It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. So, aside from giving your attendees a great experience through immersive event technology, engaging booths, and reputable keynote speakers, it’s also necessary to provide networking opportunities.
Attendees can leave your event with giveaways and pamphlets, but if you want them to go home talking about your unforgettable event, it’s essential to offer enticing networking opportunities.
Luckily, new innovative technology is only helping event planners make networking opportunities more accessible and convenient, as well as efficient enough to connect more like-minded attendees to each other throughout the event life cycle.
Events today are no longer just about listening to speakers or attending sessions. Events are about making meaningful connections and networking with other attendees. So the more networking opportunities an event provides attendees, the better.
When attendees leave your events, they will be asking themselves: “How many meaningful connections did I make today?” Your participants will be measuring your event against this and it will influence whether they will be attending your future events, meetings, and conferences. How do you help facilitate networking in your events? Here are 5 tips:
The key to successful networking is to start connecting like-minded participants with each other as early as possible. Ideally, they should be able to identify networking opportunities right after registering for your event.
Creating a gated online community in which participants instantly gain access after event registration is a great way to jumpstart networking days or even weeks prior to your event. Your pre-event online community should be conducive enough for registrants to start conversations with each other. You can also incorporate your pre-event community into your event app for convenience and easier access. Aside from leveraging on networking, this will also help drum up excitement for the event itself, thereby increasing show up rate.
While there are many lasting business connections that were made out of sheer serendipity, attendees will definitely appreciate it if you implement a well-orchestrated plan so they can meet the right people during your event.
Utilizing an event networking platform can help with this. Small breakout sessions can be organized for attendees to join, get help organizing their schedule by allocating time blocks to meet certain people, and create more intimate face time with exhibitors and resource speakers.
According to best-selling author Kevin Daum: “When you are networking, you are looking to connect with those who can help you. They might be customers, connectors, mentors, or other people of value to your business. But not everyone in the room is worth your time. You want to build a relationship with those who are. And business cards rarely get that relationship started.”
In lieu of traditional paper business cards, modern digital badges can be used. With a push of a button, your attendees can exchange contact information making networking easier (and honestly, more fun!). These digital badges can easily connect with your mobile event app to create a holistic event technology experience.
Plus, smart badges are often equipped with technology that allows for capturing important event data such as most visited booths, most engaging exhibitors, etc.
If you think your event attendees have a penchant for less formal networking activities, then exploring more creative and playful tactics can be an effective networking strategy. For example, speed networking is growing in popularity and allows even the most reserved participants to form meaningful connections during your event. Just like speed dating, each participant spends a limited amount of time with each participant. Of course, the necessary pre-event due diligence is required to ensure this activity is organized so that like-minded participants are in the same sessions. Digital badges can also be used to easily exchange contact details.
Other creative networking activities include human bingo, competitive networking (e.g. whoever acquired the most number of new connections wins a prize), and conditional discounting from exhibitors.
Many of your events will not solely be focused on networking, especially your non-corporate events. The key is to create networking-conducive spaces and pocket networking activities that serve as complementary side events to your main event.
Some ideas include:
Great event planners are effective network builders. While your event attendees also control the results of their networking efforts during your event, it falls on your shoulders to create an event strategy and facilitate activities that will make it easier for participants to connect with the right people, at the right time. With the correct use of thoughtful strategies, creative thinking, and technology such as an event management platform, your next event can be a networking mecca for attendees.
If you are a social person by nature and you find it easy to talk to strangers then it shouldn’t be too hard to attend a networking event and mingle around. On the other hand, if you are one of many that would rather do almost anything than make small talk with a room full of strangers, then you’re in luck.
Below we’ve put together a list of tips and icebreakers to help you start a conversation with less effort.
Attend networking events with a referral partner or somebody with whom you may share clients. You will promote each other’s businesses and will have someone to keep you company and will make you w little less nervous.
Act more like a host at the event rather than a guest. Try and help other people find where the coffee is, welcome them, ask them where they heard about the event from, etc. Remember, there are other nervous people there, make them feel comfortable.
If you are one of the first people in the room, there are fewer people there and you are likely to be more comfortable as people come. If too many people arrive you can leave.
“As you prepare for a function, come up with three things to talk about as well as four generic questions that will get others talking.” Good generic questions focus on things that most of us have dealt with at some point, such as, “I’m not sure where to go on vacation this year. Have you taken a good vacation recently?” Advice offered by Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.
Sometimes the best small talk is not talking at all. Learn to ask great questions that get others to talk. Remember that people love to talk about themselves, especially when they have an attentive listener.
How many of you have an elevator pitch ready so you can briefly state what you do at a networking event? Do you really remember what anyone says? Wouldn’t you rather have someone have an engaging conversation with you, over clever phrasing that they’ve clearly memorized? Good networking is about connection, enough so that people want to talk to us again. When you focus on that, it’s much easier to start any conversation and keep it going well past the event’s end.
Networking — it's often the primary reason why people want to attend events and it's often an event planner's job to help make it as easy and effective as possible for attendees. If you're unsure of how to make your networking opportunities stand out, know that facilitating meaningful experiences for your attendees can be created with the right technology, and it can also help you expand their networking journeys beyond the couple days spent onsite.
By gaining an understanding of attendees' networking goals prior to the event you can set them up with best 1-to-1 meetings, helping them build a perfect agenda full of significant connections. And by helping continue the conversation post-event, attendees continue to reap the benefits of their meetings and it makes them want to return to your event again in the future.
It's important to set the foundation for networking long before your event begins. Upon registration, make sure you ask for key demographic data (industry, title, and anything else you think is relevant), as well as direct questions about what they want to get out of potential networking opportunities. For example, are they looking for a new technology solution (if so, what kind)? Do they want to connect with a particular subject matter expert to pick their brain about a problem they're having? Or do they simply want to meet with like-minded people to build their own personal network? No matter what it is, by collecting this data early on it can help you build out your matchmaking tool to ensure the right connections are being made at your event.
Matchmaking can be done prior to or during the event itself, but either way, a mobile event app is the best tool to keep networking organized for your attendees while onsite. Along with seeing their matches via your app, they can add meetings to their personal agenda, find contact information on attendee, sponsor or exhibitor lists, and private message those that they want to meet up with. Floor plans can help them easily find designated meeting spots or particular booths they want to visit in your exhibit hall.
Publishing an attendee list on your event website and integrating it in your event app is a way to initiate interaction. Another way to enhance networking is to link each listing to an attendee's respective LinkedIn profile. Provide them with the option to opt-in for these networking opportunities during the registration process. It's important to maintain a level of privacy with your attendees’ information, so do not publish their phone numbers or email addresses.
Speaking of privacy, how many customers would prefer to communicate via text than via phone? Direct messaging has created an instant communication stream that helps people connect in many new ways. Set up a centralized messaging center that enables attendees and exhibitors with common interests to engage with one another.
Once attendees make connections with each other, planners can make it easy for them to find locations to physically meet up right in the app by providing designated meeting places for networking on an event floor plan. Having an interactive floor plan of your event’s layout in your app is a simple, but effective tool to help attendees and sponsors alike plan their schedules and make the most of their time at your event. It’s important to consider the amount of detail when creating your floor plan widget. The key is to keep it informative, but not busy and overwhelming.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are just some social media platforms that can be integrated into your app. Giving attendees access to all of this not only keeps the conversation organized and up to date in one place, but also allows for event information and engagement to be easily shared on any of the integrated platforms.
Matchmaking can be done prior to or during the event itself, but either way, this event mobile app feature is the best tool to keep networking organized for your attendees while onsite. Based on demographics and/or questions asked upon registration, the matchmaking feature creates individual lists of like-minded people for attendees to connect with onsite. This list can be found conveniently in their app, and attendees can send a short, private message to other attendees to see if they would like to connect in person prior to or during the event.
In combination with your feature-rich mobile app, digital badges can be a huge asset to any event. Make it simple for attendees to exchange contact information (name, phone number, email, etc.) by utilizing digital badges. The key is to find digital badge technology that works with your event mobile app. That way, attendees can review their event history and control their badge directly from their smartphone.
Once your attendees have met, it's time to seal the deal by exchanging contact information. Save attendees time and paper by investing in digital badge technology. With a click of a button, they can exchange any information they want via Bluetooth in seconds, as well as review it on their smartphones later (without having to fish around a sea of business cards). This technology has added benefits for event planners too. When paired with analytics tools, they can keep track of how many interactions were made at an event or even with a particular exhibitor or demographic; a great indicator of event success and ROI and how to tailor your program in years to come.
Networking with total strangers can seem scary for even some of the most seasoned event professionals, but with the right preparation, it can be a little less intimidating.
Technology has changed the face of events. In the past, you would go into an event blindfolded as to whom you would meet. Now with the ability to pre-schedule meetings, share calendars, and even do research on some prospective attendees, you can actually look forward to meeting strangers and mingling with the best.
With conferences and other events having moved almost exclusively online for the time being, organizers and sponsors need to find ways to keep their audiences engaged and provide networking opportunities without taking away from the sessions, speakers, and the overall event.
Technologies such as mobile devices and social networking are here to stay, and we believe event planners will continue to find innovative ways to leverage them and make networking at events more efficient.