Networking is a hugely important part of running a successful business – and a conference or event is an ideal opportunity for a company to initiate networking on a potentially large scale.
Meetings can fuel connections between suppliers, clients and useful contacts, who can become powerful allies in the future. Face-to-face networking can lead to job openings, as no matter how high-tech the events industry becomes, nothing can beat meeting people in person.
There are some great ways of encouraging and improving networking at your events. No matter who your audience is, there are some ideal ice-breakers to get everyone talking and connecting.
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A modern ice-breaker involves encouraging the delegates to introduce themselves online, prior to meeting in person at the event. Connect your attendees through social media to help reduce the possible stress of not knowing anyone at the conference.
Organisers can host a Twitter chat, or set up a private group on Facebook, so that people can meet each other online beforehand. Then, when they meet in person, they will have broken the ice already and can establish a closer relationship at the event.
Another way of encouraging people to network is by using packs of cards. Hand one playing card to each delegate and then group them together, based on putting the same pictures and numbers together, or the same suits. Give them around ten minutes to chat to people within their group and find shared interests.
At smaller events, if you know that people who know each other will tend to gather together in a clique, handing out the cards selectively is a great way to encourage them to meet new people. At larger events, the cards can be handed out in a 100% random way, to see who ends up in which group.
Another networking exercise revolves around business card collection. Ask delegates to bring plenty of business cards to the event. Once they’ve arrived, give them say 20 to 30 minutes to indulge in some fast networking. They must go around talking to other delegates, learning more about them. At the end of the session, the delegate who has most cards wins a prize.
Try playing the “minute games” while you’re waiting for everyone to arrive. As the name suggests, these are short, flexible games that can be used to break the ice when you don’t have a lot of time to spare.
There are various types of minute games, such as “Two Truths, One Lie”. It’s a chance for each delegate to reveal two true facts and one lie about themselves. By asking only three questions, the other attendees must guess which the lie is.
Another minute game is “What’s on Your Phone?”, when delegates are asked to share something from their phone – for example, the last photo they took. They must then tell everyone why it’s important to them.
An interesting game is “Advice to Your 13-year-old Self”, when delegates share what they would tell their teenage self if they could go back in time and offer some good advice.
There are all sorts of simple activities that can improve networking. Try setting up circular tables, so small groups of people can sit in a circular formation.
Then, give them a discussion topic, or a problem-solving challenge. The shape of the table gives everyone equal footing and also puts less pressure on the individual attendee to come up with a topic of conversation.
When the conference is over, an after-party can be an effective way of reinforcing the relationships you’ve forged during the event. After a long day or weekend of corporate events and lectures, carry on the networking in a more relaxed atmosphere. Host an after-party, with great food and beverages, as a classic networking event is often all you need to bond people together.
There are plenty of different ways to encourage people to meet one another. No matter what your event’s goals are, networking should be up there at the top of the list as one of the most important functions of the gathering.
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