For many people, the real value of a conference is in networking with existing colleagues and meeting new partners, clients, and friends. Some may not attend an event expressly to network, but almost everyone will agree that networking is valuable. Conference organizers acknowledge its importance, but how often do they take an active role in ensuring that networking opportunities are designed to be easy, comfortable, and effective? Why aren’t more events building networking-focused activities into their events? What tools can event organizers employ to promote quality networking? I’ve compiled a list of 5 ways that you can facilitate networking at your next event.
1. Make sure your mobile event app has social integration.
When planning your event, consider using an event app with social integration. Social integration can come in a variety of forms so it is important to determine your goals before settling on a solution. Integration with LinkedIn, for instance, can provide your attendees with useful insight into who is attending, what companies or organizations they represent, connections they may have with them, and their degree of separation. This information can save attendees a great deal of time as they prioritize who they would like to connect with during the conference. When your event app has social capabilities, attendees can begin networking before the event, use it to network during the event, and continue to network even after the event. Attendease is about to launch a new mobile event app that will feature social integration and attendee to attendee messaging. Visit our mobile event app page for more information.
2. Adapt the traditional format to include networking-focused activities.
Meeting someone influential, inspiring, or with capital to invest is a major draw for many conference goers. With this in mind, it makes sense to optimize the format of your event to improve the chances that your attendees will make these valuable connections. In a recent article by Julius Solaris, he discusses a new approach to networking that involves a format similar to “speed-dating”. In short, attendees are paired with each other based upon differences in discipline and job seniority, in order to forge normally unlikely connections. Each pair had a predetermined period of time to chat and then were ushered to their next pairing. The experiment was a success, and I encourage you to read the article. The key idea to take away from this is that adapting the standard conference format to include networking-focused activities can benefit everyone involved.
3. Provide attendees with a mobile-friendly, interactive schedule.
One of the simplest ways to help your attendees network is to provide them with an interactive online schedule they can review and revise on their mobile device. Allowing your attendees to build their schedules on the fly gives them the ability to prioritize their itinerary and optimize their networking time. Giving attendees full control of their conference timetable allows them to make informed choices about where and when to network. Schedule management can be incorporated into an event app, but in fact an app isn’t always necessary. By choosing an event platform that delivers mobile-friendly schedules as a feature of the event website, attendees have access to their schedules without needing to download an app. As we’ve seen, event apps can play a major role in networking at events, but even without an app, mobile-friendly schedules are assets to networking. Attendease schedules are mobile-friendly, interactive and created using the Attendease Schedule Builder. Visit our features page for more information on mobile-friendly scheduling.
4. Create an online community for your attendees.
Another way to extend the networking possibilities past the duration of your conference is by creating an online community, group, or forum. Through an online community, your attendees have the opportunity to cultivate connections before they even arrive at the event. First, choose a service to host the community or commission a developer to create a custom solution. Your registrants can log in and fill out personal and/or business profiles they will share with the rest of the community. They can reach out to other attendees, browse the list of who will be in attendance, and get an idea of who might be a valuable connection. Event apps with social integration often feature some type of community attendees can join through the app.
5. Design the layout and setup of breakout areas with networking in mind.
Another consideration is the layout and setup of breakout areas. Areas where people congregate, like tea and coffee stations, influence networking because people naturally gravitate towards them. The shape, size and placement of these points has an effect on how easy it is to start, join, or leave a conversation. The key is to build a space that encourages movement; if people are sedentary there will be fewer opportunities to network.
With a vast amount of content available online, and endless opportunities to network over social media, conferences must provide an experience that offers real value. If conference organizers want to attract busy people away from their business, give up valuable hours, and pay registration, lodging and travel fees, networking opportunities need to be front and center. They also need to be revamped and intentionally designed to produce high quality experiences. If the real value of a conference is the networking, then ensure its value.
Have you had a great networking experience at a conference? Share your experience with us in the comments below or tweet us at @Attendease
Troy KastingMarketing Coordinator