Facilitated Conversations: The New Networking
Events have been back in full swing for well over a year, but for many events the attendee composition has changed. In addition to the few devoted individuals that come year after year, there’s an entirely new constituency that has joined your industry or organization in the last few years. Add in a segment of attendees who are a bit shy with getting back into the mix of networking and you’ve found yourself with the perfect opportunity for utilizing facilitated networking opportunities at your conference. Here’s a quick list of ways to get started at your next meeting:
A fun, easy way to encourage networking among individuals is to create group activity opportunities. Some of our favorites include:
- Mini golf which incorporates teams and friendly competition
- Utilizing the popular tourist ferris wheels to group individuals together and give them a full rotation of the wheel to get to know each other
- Hayrides, trains or carriage rides that follow offer a 15-30 minute experience around a town or path that invites conversation
- Create an obstacle course for teams to maneuver through while learning about each other
- Group bus trips that include ice breaker activities along the route
Creating connection opportunities for first-time attendee and the next generation of leaders has proven to increase engagement and repeat attendance for future events. These can include pre-arranged meetings as well as open-whenever timeframes. A few options are:
- Schedule Luncheons with mentors at each table to start conversations or open lunch times for anyone who wants to meet new people to walk in and invite themselves to a table.
- Themed-group meet-ups in exhibit halls or sessions allow like-minded individuals to meet those wanted to attend the same session track and speak with similar exhibitors.
- Lounges staffed with mentors, leadership, or experienced attendees who will openly engage with the first-timers that stop by to ask questions and meet new people. This could be a built out lounge or just a designated section of a local coffee shop.
- Solution-based learning is a popular option as it combines working in groups with each member playing a role with the ability to learn from others.
- Speed Networking is not a new idea, but it’s hard to not walk away with at least one new contact so keep it in the mix of options. Attendees can cycle through timed meet-ups (we recommend 3-5 minutes each) and make a new connection, learn from an experienced representative, meet a leader or find a new friend to hit up the receptions with later at the event!
There are many ways to encourage conversations passively among attendees. By utilizing one or more of these techniques, your attendees will be free to interact in ways they’re most comfortable with:
- Place conversation starter cards around the venue in places where individuals could find themselves standing next to a stranger – lounges, charging stations, session tables, etc
- Color Coding Badges or Ribbons can help identify individuals by professional categories, business needs, or even an “I can offer XX solution…” making it simple for attendees to quickly see who makes sense to start a conversation with.
- Flair - A great way for individuals to show who they are without saying a word is to wear flair. Encourage your attendees to wear their best expression of themselves on their sleeves (or lanyards or hats or scarfs) on day one of your conference. Whether sporting a ‘dog mom’ pin or a ten gallon hat from Texas, attendees will be on the lookout for someone with a common interest and naturally start a conversation.
Meeting new people and professional connections is a high priority for most attendees so have some fun with the concept at your event with these recommendations:
- Create industry-inspired baseball cards for attendees to fill-in with business and fun fact type information. Attendees can then collect/trade with each other instead of using traditional business cards. It’s a unique momento of the event as well as a quick way to remember who new contact was when they find the card in a pocket a few months later.
- Encourage a flair or swag swap with items that represent the attendees professional position, HQ location, producer offering or other – this can be Hawaiian Lei’s, Florida oranges, a Canadian beer koozie or something fun attendees will want to collect and show off during the conference.
- Gamify it! Each attendee gets 5 tickets at registration/badge pick-up and put their name & contact information on them. The goal is to see how many tickets an attendee can collect from other attendees (they have to engage to swap tickets!) so they can turn them in for “prizes” at the end of the conference. Wanna go more high tech? Incorporate your conference app with a networking tool that allows attendees to either share info digitally or connect instantly on LinkedIn. Connections can be tracked and the top 10 networkers can win a group dinner or outing at the conference.
READY TO TAKE YOUR EVENT TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
The LAI Live team can help. Contact us to get started.