Professional events can provide value to attendees in a few ways. There’s the opportunity to learn from various presentations, panels and discussions, of course—these sessions serve as the anchors of any worthwhile event. But the scheduled content is only part of the equation.
Some of the magic of conferences and events happens behind the scenes, when attendees meet each other and get to talking. Networking is a major reason people want to attend events, or at least feel it’s worthwhile to do so because they could make valuable connections with others they meet.
So, event organizers should keep this in mind during the planning stages. Ask yourself: How can we maximize attendee networking at our event? Here are five tips to get you started.
Use Social Media to Get People Talking
Networking can begin before people even step foot into your venue, provided your organization is using social media as a hub for collective commentary and conversation. Let people know how to follow and engage with your event’s social media pages across platforms. Publicize the hashtags and location tags people can use when posting images, quotes, insights, questions, etc.
Eventbrite takes this idea one step further—offering a suggestion to display posts on a large screen somewhere central to your event because “most people get a little thrill out of seeing their tweet, Facebook post or Instagram photo shared on a giant screen.” This extra dash of engagement can help people connect both online and in person.
However you utilize social media for your event, make sure you’re encouraging people to post, comment and get to know other attendees.
Provide Prompts to Start Conversation
It can be tough to strike up a conversation out of thin air with the person sitting next to you, especially if you know nothing about each other. This is where icebreakers come in handy as networking activities—they provide a solid starting ground for a conversation based on everyone’s answers. As Poll Everywhere notes, oftentimes “the conversation starts to flow naturally” if attendees have a jumping off point, like unique answers to a creative icebreaker question.
Encourage Break-Out Sessions and Teamwork
All too often what ends up happening at a conference is people move from session to session alone, silently taking in what speakers have to say. And then they kill time on their mobile devices or reading through their notes between sessions. The result is entire rooms full of people focused on the same thing, but barely communicating with the people around them about what they’re thinking and feeling.
A simple remedy is incorporating more break-out sessions and groupwork into every presentation. Even something as simple as asking people to turn to the person next to them and share a comment or question they have goes a long way. With enough preparation time, you can ask speakers to incorporate team-based activities into their presentations, building camaraderie and encouraging active learning in the same stroke.
Build in Breaks Throughout the Day
Sometimes lack of networking stems from lack of downtime. If people are running—literally or metaphorically—from session to session with barely a break to eat or use the restroom, there’s little chance they’re making meaningful connections with others. Free time is an important precursor for networking.
Consider adding a few extra minutes between sessions, giving people a chance to breathe and strike up conversations. Create common areas with amenities that draw people into them, fostering an environment rich for small talk and interesting chatter.
These five tips will help you maximize attendee networking at your next event, helping participants get the most value possible out of the experience.