Networking is one of those ubiquitous words we hear in our working life. But not everyone is comfortable doing this and opening up conversations with strangers. Some will relish the opportunity to make new contacts, boundlessly introducing themselves to a group already deep in conversation. The more shy or reticent will cling to their colleague or someone they know, hovering by the drinks table. Perhaps with some ‘Dutch Courage’ they begin to talk to someone new. However, some are simply so apathetic or filled with fear about networking that they spend most of the time at the event engrossed (or feigning interest) in their phone. Some take it to an extreme and their best avoidance strategy is simply not attending the event.
It’s my view that not enough is being done by marketers and event organisers to facilitate the whole process of networking. Here are some ways to help the process:
- Design an event that is going to work. Finding out what your audience really wants will help you create a compelling event which will support your objectives and desired outcomes. Avoid taking up most of their time with a series of presentations in a dark and dingy room – make sure there is enough time to interact.
- Don’t be afraid to shake up an existing format and opt for a new location. An interesting venue can inspire those attending and allow them to think and interact in a different way. Consider a gallery or a film set for example – or if you prefer to use a hotel, then perhaps choose one with some interesting refurbished spaces. Choose a venue that is not just a square box, allowing people to take a pause in the networking without feeling the need to resort to checking their emails.
- Do break from the classic break – take it to a whole new level by inviting in special relaxation and movement experts to help loosen the tension.
- If you know the profiles of your attendees and their interests you can match them up, have them sit at tables by topic at lunch for discussions, give them specific badge colours and set tasks to find three people with the same badges, so they meet the right people. Or simply have a table plan. Don’t just leave them to have random conversations – you are the host, so act like one!
Design activities which break down barriers and make it easy for your attendees to interact and meet new people; fun activities such as cooking classes, or drum circles can break down barriers, or group challenges and competitions to really get people engaged and interacting and solving problems that are relevant to your event.