Some people are better at networking that others. There are those who can confidently walk into a room and glide from person to person, dispensing business cards and riveting conversation, whilst others find the whole ordeal quite uncomfortable and spend most of the evening in the corner of the room, on their phone or looking at their shoes.
As an event organiser you will most likely find networking a breeze (or at least appear to), and you will be a natural at connecting people. However, at your event, you don’t have time to go round every single guest and help them forge meaningful connections with one another. So what can you do to make your guests feel comfortable facilitate great networking opportunities?
Here’s our top 5 tips for running great networking events.
1. Tell your guests who’s coming to your event
One of the things I always do before I book a ticket to a business event is find out who else is attending. This gives me a good idea as to the types of people I will be networking with, and to put it bluntly, whether it’s worth my time attending.
When you have your guest list, host it somewhere online for your attendees to access. The easiest place for this is on the event page itself, as this will update in real time for you with each guest added. Not everyone will want their attendance to be public knowledge though, so make sure you are clear to your guests when they are buying a ticket that you will be posting this online (we have an option to switch the ‘show who’s attending’ feature off for this reason).
Allowing your guests to see who is coming will give them the opportunity to establish how they can get the most from the event and encourage better connections.
If it’s a smaller event, have a look at the guest list and see who would want to meet each other and make sure this happens at the event.
2. Smart name badges
Name badges are a great tool for allowing interactions to happen organically, particularly for larger events where guests may not know each other.
I am not a fan of the standard ‘First Name, Last Name, Company Name’ white badge, as I always feel rude glancing at them when I am speaking to someone, but I understand their relevance. Recently, I have been really impressed with the creative ways in which organisers are transforming the name badge.
I visited an event in Brooklyn in the Summer, where I could pick my own name badge by colour. The colour I chose referenced my profession i.e. red symbolised marketing. This made networking so much easier as I knew I probably didn’t need to speak to other red badges, and I could seek out the other colours that I needed.
I also attended Break Conference recently in Belfast. Northern Ireland is very small and I am used to walking into a lot of events and knowing most of the people there. However I didn’t know many at this event. Thankfully, Chris, the organiser had asked for all the attendees Twitter names when they registered and had used them on their name badge. The more Twitter handles I saw, the more I found people who I had already seen from my own Twitter, and those using the event hashtag, which made striking up conversations easy.
3. Create an event hashtag
Although nothing beats face to face communication, online networking at events can be an extremely effective form of communication. Some of the best connections I have made at an event have been through Twitter. Create an event hashtag that can be used for the event marketing, and on the day of the event amongst your guests. Hashtags works great on the day to help, not only guests in attendance, but allows those who haven’t been able to make it, to get involved.
This works particularly well for larger events, to help guests discover who else is there, and is also as a good conversation starter before they physically meet.
4. Give them an experience
Ultimately, whatever type of event you organise, it’s all about creating the right experience for your guests. Place yourself in their shoes and consider what they’ll want out of the event. Carefully curate your partners and sponsors, and pay attention to the finer details. If organising networking activities, keep it simple e.g. break your guests up into pre-picked random groups and have everyone introduce themselves and what they do to each other, or ask them about a topic covered during the day to open conversation.
5. Go with the flow
No matter how much planning you put into your event, sometimes unforeseeable things happen. When they do, don’t be afraid to embrace them and go with the flow. Did some of your guests not turn up, or have a lot left early? Host a discussion session on a relevant topic to your event, to keep people talking.
Making these considerations during your event planning won’t make all of your guests networking pros, but it will make them more comfortable attending, and more likely to return to your future events.
Got a suggestion on facilitating networking? Please feel free to share it below.