Beyond key speakers and sponsors, networking opportunities should be a main offering powering your event. As an organizer, part of your event strategy is to facilitate networking between attendees in order for them to get the most value. Your event will be remembered by the connections and relationships it helped to create.
Here are 20 tips for encouraging event attendees to network, have fun, and ultimately leave your event with a smile and plenty of business cards in tow.
Table of Contents
- An Online Community
- Name Badges
- Employ Mid-Session Activities
- Optimize the Venue Layout
- Share, Share, Share
- Send Push Notifications
- Create a Networking Guide
- People Matching
- Networking Stations
- Conditional Sponsor Discounts
- Mobile Personal Schedule
- Group Minimum Activities
- First Timers’ Kick-Off
- Networking Hubs
- The Traditional Note
- Masterclass Opportunities
- Reminders Are Key
- Attendee Contributions
- Incentivize Ticket Sharing Discounts
- A Solution Wall
Photo Source: Sisense
With 46% of companies using a social platform to increase engagement among attendees before an event, having an online community becomes crucial. It is an opportunity for people to engage with each other in a way that is approachable and lasting. Through a virtual space, attendees can integrate Linkedin accounts, message other attendees, schedule time with speakers, and even plan to grab drinks together!
The organizers behind Sisense’s Eureka conference use Bizzabo’s online community tool on their event networking app and website to create this exclusive online platform for event goers. In this case, organizers chose to make the community exclusive to event registrants, meaning that only those that had signed up for the event could access and communicate with fellow attendees. Your event management software should make it easy to implement such an online platform. Whether it is through an app or an online community, this tip is sure to facilitate networking at your next event.
Pro tip: If you are using an app, make sure that event app adoption is at the forefront of your event strategy!
Photo Source: Marcin Wichary
Name badges are required for most events, and while the standard name and company does encourage attendees to connect, why not add a more engaging feature? Consider color coding by event role (attendee versus speaker), job industry, or by session track. Go the extra mile by utilizing name badges as an impromptu event activity — a surprise breakout session by badge color, a hidden meeting place at the back of your event badge, or even a discount to get coffee with a matching badgee! The possibilities are endless.
Google’s ORD Camp event planners have the right idea. The ORD Camp badges have large, visible text, star symbols to signal recurring attendees, and include three topics for other attendees to refer to. These badges are simple yet effective.
Attendees will be sitting through numerous sessions throughout the course of an event. Implore your speakers to interact with attendees through mid-session activities, like polls, breakout groups, and session ratings. These inclusive icebreaker activities will urge participants to share and compare responses, which is particularly valuable when sessions are large and breakout groups run the risk of being inefficient. Rather than talking at attendees, speakers will have the opportunity to engage them in meaningful conversation.
Photo Source: SaaStr
An event, down to the layout of its venue, can be either encouraging or discouraging for people to network. Ensure the event venue is navigable, thus guaranteeing attendees aren’t spending time deciphering a map when they could be developing connections.
Given the importance behind event locale, SaaStr Annual 2019 has been upgraded to a venue 3x bigger than was used in previous years. The extra space will enable organizers to implement mentoring sessions, braindates, and meeting hubs (more on both of these later). The design of your venue can encourage interactions by way of gamification, interactive seating designs, and exclusive activities. Even environmental cues, like lighting and music, play a role!
5. Share, Share, Share
Photo Source: Salesforce
Create opportunities for attendees to share their event experience by giving them the tools to do so - this includes social media hashtags (make sure others aren’t already using the ones you come up with!), on-site contribution walls, and photo opps. By incentivizing social media participation through these methods, attendees are more likely to engage with each other during the event and to encourage further online interactions sparked by follows, likes, shares, and repostings. This allows event goers to familiarize themselves with fellow attendees, while simultaneously increasing your online event presence. Talk about a win-win.
Salesforce’s event planners use social media as a b2b event marketing strategy for their annual Dreamforce SaaS conference. Most recently, they promoted the #DF18 hashtag to facilitate event updates and guide discussion amongst attendees, thus creating an effective platform through which attendees could participate and refer to back to.
Photo Source: Social Media Examiner
Just like event planners, attendees have a lot on their plates. If you plan a great networking event, people must show up in order for it to be successful. A simple tip is to boost attendee attendance by sending push notifications before activities take place.
At Social Media Marketing World, organizers send strategic push notifications to attendees with conference updates, impromptu sessions, and networking party reminders. If your event app features a push notification tool, you can even organize spontaneous networking activities during breaks. The point here is that attendees must be reminded of your carefully crafted events. If they don’t know about it, they won’t be there!
When people register for your event, particularly first-time event goers, offer some quality content and tips they should follow to improve and make the most of the networking opportunities available at your event. While general tips are helpful, personalize these tips to offer the most value to attendees - from suggestions on what to add to their attendee profiles, to the best bars around your event. These short and easily-implementable networking ideas will go a long way.
Photo Source: C2 Montréal
Whether it’s before or during the event, try pairing attendees with shared interests, industries, or even hometown. This can mean an automated notification when registrants sign up for your event, which can be developed into an in-person matching station that helps attendees find connections in a fun and interactive fashion!
At C2 Montréal, participants are set up one-on-one “Brain Dates”, meetings for attendees to learn and connect. Organizers orchestrated a Brain Dating Lounge, where appointed matchmakers would help attendees find pertinent matches. This ingenious meeting setup gives attendees an excuse to introduce themselves, knowing that a tailored, significant connection awaits.
Photo Source: SXSW
One-on-one meetings are not the ideal scenario for all attendees. Alternatively, implement group speed-dating rounds. The multi-person setting will serve particularly useful in luring first-time attendees. Give groups five minutes to “date”, supply table topics, and watch as meaningful connections are formed!
The South by Southwest (SXSW 2018) conference featured unique attendee meetups — from a “25 and Under Meet Up” to “First Time to SXSW Meet Up”. These tailored yet informal gatherings created the perfect networking spaces for attendees to engage with other event goers they might have not met otherwise.
Photo Source: Adobe
Your event sponsors are likely supplying exclusive discounts and promo codes for attendees. In an effort to incentivize relationship-building activities, why not make these conditional? This would mean that attendees can only unlock a code if they meet up with other attendees, or something along those lines.
Aimed at Creative Cloud software creatives, Adobe’s MAX—The Creativity Conference partners with brands and products that their attendees use on a daily basis. The MAX event website features partners with offerings, prizes and giveaways. Organizers incorporate networking into this experience by creating a MAX Marketplace where attendees can even sell products created through these affiliates!
Photo Source: Gainsight
Multi-track events present diverse opportunities for attendee engagement. If your event management software permits, enable registrants to register for sessions pre-event and keep this option available as the event takes place.
Pulse by Gainsight is a customer success conference that uses Bizzabo’s agenda schedule planner to help facilitate how attendees interact with their event agenda and with fellow attendees. Allowing users to update and modify their personal event schedules on-the-go means that Pulse attendees are more likely to make changes as they interact with other event goers. This feature adds a level of flexibility that facilitates attendee communication and organic relationship building.
Photo Source: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Whether you are providing lunch, breakfast, or dinner (props if you’ve managed all three!), meals are a great time for people to develop connections. As part of your event strategy, consider requiring attendees to form groups of five to eight people in order to get a table, picnic blanket, or even utensils. This ensures attendees will be talking to each other, event outside of event sessions.
In the past, organizer’s behind TED Conferences have hosted picnics for attendees. The catch? Only groups of seven or more attendees could receive a picnic basket. This easy-to-implement tip encouraged event goers to socialize, while ensuring there was a new group of people to converse with outside of event sessions.
Photo Source: Gopher Academy
A pre-event networking event for first-time attendee would be particularly helpful for events with many recurring attendees. You don’t want anyone to feel left out! This opportunity would encourage and guide these new event goers to get the most value from your planned event, to present opportunities to meet speakers, to come up with questions for other attendees, and to form activity groups within this pre-event breakout session.
GopherCon, by Gopher Academy, offers multiple pre-conference workshops that are topic segmented. These day-long sessions enable attendees to learn while meeting like-minded people before the event in a personalized setting. While these sessions are not specifically tailored around networking strategies, organizers successfully establish the ideal setting for attendee connections to flourish.
Photo Source: Totango
Transform coffee, snacks, and water stations into networking hubs. Add topic suggestions, ice breaker questions, or even print event keywords on napkins and cups. Make use of all available real estate space that you know attendees will be looking at (especially when it’s coffee or food) and turn these into conversation starters. If Snapple got millions of people to talk about their brand by printing random facts on the inside of their bottle lids, why shouldn’t you be creative with your unused real estate?
Totango’s Customer Success Summit began to implement this idea by creating a VIP-like lounge space — music, espresso bar, and table games included — as well as an intimate Case Study Theater for attendees to explore software releases and interact with other customers.
Create a note template for attendees to fill out and pass around during sessions. It might seem counterintuitive, but business cards aren’t distinctive whereas there is something to be said about personalized notes. Make sure participants fill out their name, socials, and answer three unique questions about their interests, careers or favorite pastimes. Have them share these at a certain point within sessions. While it is up to attendees to participate, this quick and simple tip will likely spur spontaneous interactions.
Photo Source: South Summit
Offer prize masterclasses with select attendees and keynote speakers, which can be given as a raffle or as competition. These specialized sessions will incentivize attendees to contribute further to your next event and encourage mentorship opportunities between participants and presenters.
At their Startup Competition, South Summit organizers offer 100 (out of 3,500!) competing finalists the chance to join specialized meetings with top venture capitalists. This incredible opportunity enables attendees to develop valuable connections outside of the immediate attendee network.
As an event organizer, your role as facilitator extends beyond the event. Through emails and social channels, target your audience with fun and quirky poster reminders of networking tips. These should be simple, easy to read, and implementable suggestions, concerning issues such as networking etiquette or questions to avoid. Either way, it is a reminder for attendees to network, while offering suggestions to do so on-the-go. If possible, consider sharing photos of the event and a guest list attendees can continuously access.
Photo Source: Namely
Incentivize your attendees to contribute to the event community by allowing their suggestions to be featured and implemented as part of your corporate event management strategy. This can be done as a social campaign that culminates in a competition for the best post-event idea.
At Namely’s HR Redefined Summit, attendees are prompted to apply and give interactive presentations covering tips and techniques catered to HR professionals. Moreover, Namely hosts a problem-tackling session for attendees to tackle day-to-day challenges within the industry in real time, while being coached by professionals. The result? A team-building contribution your attendees can build upon.
Photo Source: Forbes
By providing ticket discount incentives, attendees are more likely to incentivize those within their social circle to attend your event. While this is great in terms of your event registration strategy, it also benefits attendee networking as they will likely be more comfortable interacting with other event goers if they have a friend to do it with.
At their Consensus event, Coindesk organizers incorporated social-based ticket discounts for event promotion. By doing so, Consensus ticket sales soared, but more importantly, registrants had accompanying attendees within their network which encouraged engagement and generated a more lively environment.
Photo Source: BizBash
A great final tip to facilitate networking at your next event is to create a pass-it-forward note board. Attendees can quickly write down their contact information with insight into their professional roles and pin these to a designated wall. Fellow attendees can grab notes as they see fit and connect over how they can help them achieve professional success. This professional networking activity is perhaps most useful for attendees experiencing similar industry pain-points, while offering others the opportunity to share solutions and products in an innovative fashion.
Simply put, networking is hard but you can make it easier. Make sure attendees make the most of their event experience by implementing these tips into your networking event strategy.
- Create networking conducive spaces for attendees — this applies to the venue layout, engaging hubs, and lunch activities. All aspects of your event should facilitate communication.
- Consider first-time attendees in your pre-event strategy. By providing an event app, an online community, as well as meetup sessions, you ensure rewarding connections are at the forefront of your next event for newcomers and veterans alike.
- Optimize networking at event sessions and spontaneous activities by reminding registrants through social media hashtags and push notifications. These spaces will encourage attendees to show up and spark conversation regarding the next activity on your event agenda!
- Make connections personal and provide experiences worth sharing. Allowing attendees to contribute content and assist other attendees will result in a personalized and encouraging networking event experience.
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