One of the best parts of a conference or event is the ability to network with like-minded people. Some event venues have what seems to be almost natural places to network. Perhaps the lobby has a bar area, or there are couches and chairs scattered in easy-to-access corners around the hotel. However, some spaces are not as conducive to networking. It’s important that you think through networking spaces and purposefully create a few for your attendees.
For most events, you’ve likely scheduled a set number of rooms to utilize for workshops, meals, registration, and other activities. However, it is also likely that some of those rooms will go unused during parts of each day. Take advantage of this free space to organize and designate some networking spaces.
Ask volunteers to set up chairs in a small circle or push chairs out of the way and bring in one of the couches from the hallway. It’s important that you communicate to attendees that these rooms are available for networking during certain times. You may even want to designate different rooms for different types of networking.
For example, if you are hosting a writer’s conference, you might designate one room as a place to meet agents and get to know them and another room as a place to chat with your favorite author.
There are some moments during your conference that will naturally lend themselves to networking. One example is an evening mixer. Provide some light food and drinks and standing tables. Worried people won’t be able to break the ice on their own?
- Leave conversation starter cards on the tables
- Create a game where people have to find matching cards
- Ask attendees to find the person who lives closest to where they do
You get the idea. The goal is to get your attendees interaction and help them find out what they have in common.
Another idea for those unused rooms or for big gatherings is to create brainstorming circles. Give the circles a purpose, such as teaming up several local businesses and asking them to come up with ideas of how they can work together to promote one another.
A brainstorming circle can be created anywhere with as few as three people. Set them up in a bigger room, a small empty room, or even encourage meetings around the lobby area of a hotel.
To help the networking run smoothly, you’ll want to appoint a few networking leaders. Ideally, these people should be good at remembering names and details. Tasks for a networking leader might include:
- Introducing two people who have something in common
- Getting conversation started about how two or more businesses might work together and help one another
- Setting up rooms so that networking occurs naturally
- Coming up with icebreaker games
- Setting up groups of people that will network well together
Basically, networking is something that will occur naturally at times at your event. However, there are also moments when it needs a little encouragement. The smart event planner creates networking opportunities so that every attendee leaves the event feeling connected.