As event managers, we all can agree that, in most cases, networking is the reason most people attend events. However, planning a networking event or session without thinking about what motivates attendees to interact is like trying to start a campfire in the pouring rain.
Think about the last time you had to attend a networking event. It probably wasn’t the most pleasant experience, as you were most likely worried about saying something stupid in front of complete strangers, or anxious about striking up a conversation with someone you didn’t know.
Moreover, you probably had to make a lot of generic small talk, only to realize, at the end, those business cards you collected weren’t going to be of much use to you.
According to the Research Manager at Pinterest and Fast Company writer Ximena Vengoechea, “Professional events like Meetups, conferences, and speed mentoring help bridge that gap, yet many of us feel ill-suited in attending.”
She explains, “It can be hard for two strangers to truly connect in that type of setting. This explains why so many people are eager to hand you a business card instead of a conversation. We rush to exchange information, because that’s what the environment calls for.”
In their bookNetworking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections, Derek Coburn and Chris Brogan argue, “The most common source of frustration involves the role of networking events themselves.”
The authors highlight the decreasing efficiency of this type of event, noting professionals are “seeing drastically diminished returns on their investment in them.” According to Coburn and Brogan, networking events are often viewed as a “necessary evil,” responsible for high levels of anxiety, with low outcomes.
So what can you do as an event manager to avoid planning and running a second-class networking experience and help people (even the most passive ones) develop long-lasting professional relationships at your event?
Check out this list of steps to follow when designing your next event’s networking dynamic:
Step #1. Help your attendees prepare for networking
Let your guests know what the networking parameters are and how they’ll be able to interact in the dynamic. If your intention is to provide a speed dating session or a cocktail business party, you must specify the activity in the event schedule and block a specific amount of time for it.
Also, you can use event platforms such as Eventory to enable your participants to have access to the attendee database and a pre-event (digital) communication platform. This way, they can identify the people they want to interact with and contact those individuals to schedule possible meetings before or during the event.
Step #2. Instead of icebreaker games, provide storytelling sessions
Icebreaker games have their charm, yet sometimes “having fun” before networking may not be a good decision. Often, these activities may generate additional stress, anxiety, or awkwardness. As an alternative, you can set up a meaningful dynamic to help participants truly connect with each other. For example, you can organize people into small groups and give each group a discussion topic, specifying that each person must tell a story related to the established subject. This helps guests connect on a deeper level and identify (in these groups) interesting people with whom they could continue networking with after the activity.
Step #3. Set up round tables and problem-solving exercises
Apart from storytelling sessions, you can also plan a teamwork exercise by asking a series of questions that attendees (organized in round tables) must answer during a specific time frame. By harnessing the potential of teamwork and problem-solving, you’ll help strengthen the professional relationship between strangers and facilitate their networking process afterward, turning those strangers into business contacts.
Step #4. Assist your guests during the entire interaction dynamic
It doesn’t matter if you decide to run icebreaker games, storytelling sessions, or problem-solving exercises—you must be always present in the room. During networking events, you can’t expect from attendees to organize themselves. It’s your responsibility to be there and facilitate their interaction experience.
Step #5. Use a powerful event mobile app to enrich the networking experience
Although networking at events means communicating face to face with other people, you can always explore the possibility of using an event mobile app for a different kind of connection. For example, Eventory mobile app will help your attendees to filter event assistants by tags, this way enabling them to find relevant connections. Also, it provides a built-in messenger, encouraging the pre-event communication and networking.
We may often believe that running networking events or sessions have zero complexity because of their infamous, pre-established format. But the traditional way of planning networking events isn’t always efficient, and can sometimes even cause your attendees discomfort and distress. That’s why it’s crucial to innovate and try new things that will empower your guests to build strong professional relationships with potential prospects.