For attendees at your event, the connections they make are just as important as the information they glean. In an industry where attendee engagement is the gold standard of KPIs, it’s crucial to consider whether your events are set up to maximize networking among your attendees.
At its best, event networking means connecting with industry peers, exchanging beneficial insights, and creating memorable experiences that will stick with attendees long after the closing session ends. How do we make more of these moments happen at in-person events? Here are a few strategies to consider.
1. Get ahead of the game
Just like with booking your speaker, the work of maximizing networking at your event starts with having a game plan months before your event. In the time leading up to your event, try to get a deeper understanding of your audience and their preferences. What are they most passionate about? How do they like to connect with others? What professional backgrounds do they have? Find out what common ground exists. Pre-event surveys are a great way to gather this information.
2. Split attendees into smaller groups
Not every single one of us is a social butterfly. As with any gathering, there will be both introverts and extroverts at your events. When you’re speaking to a smaller group and everyone is chiming in, it becomes a lot less daunting to open up and participate in the conversation. This breakout group approach can encourage even the most introverted to have conversations and build connections with those around them.
3. Jump start the conversation
Once you’ve got attendees in breakout groups, you can utilize activities, open ended questions, or even cooperative games to expedite these conversations. Even the most anxious attendees can’t help but feel more comfortable when working with a group to solve a problem or answering a fun icebreaker question. An experienced moderator or emcee can make a big impact in this portion of your event.
4. Put the metaphorical pedal to the networking metal
In addition to splitting folks into smaller groups, keeping conversations short and sweet is another way to lower the ask for attendees and increase participation in networking. No more getting stuck in 20 minute conversations; instead, consider 3 to 5 minute chats. Having limited time for each interaction, attendees will be able to make more connections than otherwise possible, and conversation will be productive. For those who struggle with what to share in these situations, having just a minute or less to work with can take the pressure off, too.
5. Draw them in with food
One of the biggest challenges for event organizers aiming to make their events more engaging is actually getting attendees in the room for those interactive moments. Not every attendee is choosing to take advantage of the networking opportunities between sessions. But almost every attendee will participate in lunch, dinner, or breakfast. For best results, consider setting up multiple seating areas, each with their own topic of discussion. Also, consider your placement of snacks during breaks strategically as an opportunity to allow for conversation, not just coffee.
6. Follow up with attendees after your event
Every industry is unique — there’s no “one size fits all” approach to maximizing networking at events. In the same way you build your event content around your audience, your networking experiences should be tailored to their preferences. Keep in touch with your attendees after your event is over. Ask them how they felt it went, whether they liked the strategies you used, and if they have any ideas they’d like to see you try in the future.
For attendees, networking opportunities are a key consideration when they ask themselves “was that event worth it for me?” As you look to optimize attendee experience in 2023, being strategic about networking opportunities at your events will make a world of difference.