How to Encourage Networking at Your Corporate Event
You’ve been planning your corporate event for months now, and it’s finally time to settle the details for that mix and mingle time-slot on your schedule. Since you’ve landed here, you’re probably hoping you can make this hour something more fun and impactful than the average networking event.
You know you want your attendees to make valuable connections; after all, that’s why most people go to corporate events, right? And you know the basics — people will participate more if there is some kind of structure for navigating the session, if they know what they have in common with others, and if they have activities that make it easier to approach each other. But how do you ensure that your networking event will put attendees at ease as they meet dozens of strangers?
We’ve got eight instantly deployable ideas for you that don’t include putting people awkwardly on the spot. Some of these may look familiar, but we’ve put some unique twists on tried-and-true activities.
Consider utilizing an event app like Whova to take your event up a notch. In addition to features like in-app event brochures and schedules, your attendees can browse others’ profiles to identify people they have things in common with and/or want to meet.
Another way to create pre-event connections is to deploy your hash tag campaign a few days ahead of time. For example, you could use #RoadTo[Insert your conference name here] for attendees to share their posts about traveling to the event. Through these tags, they’ll be able to identify others who are attending and begin looking through profiles.
Detailed Name Tags
Does your mind ever go blank when you’re asked to share an interesting fact about yourself? Or does your canned response to that question feel stale? Instead of putting people on the spot in a large circle of strangers, ask them to submit some interesting things about themselves when they register for the event. Display these interesting facts on their name tags in a readable font-size so that even the quietest person becomes approachable. By giving attendees time to think about their answers, no one will freeze or feel awkward at the event. Displaying the answers will make it easier for people to approach each other.
Break Your Networking Event (Into Smaller Groups)
With some of the information you gather about attendees during registration, create several smaller networking events that group people who have complementary interests, professions, or positions. Creating more targeted groups will not only give people instant connections they can talk about, it can also create an opportunity for you to ask more engaging and specific icebreaker questions that will deepen connections faster.
Give everyone Bingo cards filled with characteristics your attendees might have (e.g. “someone who is originally from Austin, Texas”) to give people an easy way to approach others. This game makes for a great warm-up exercise at your event because it gives people a reason to engage each other, which may help as you delve into activities where you incorporate deeper topics of conversation.
A Card for a Story Competition
Evidence suggests that, “70% of what we learn is through stories.” We learn all kinds of information through stories, but they can reveal a lot about the storytellers themselves — everything from how they tell stories to their actions within them tell listeners something about the speakers. Prime your attendees to think of a story before they come to the event; give them a prompt, such as describing a time they had to overcome a challenge at work. Then, instead of hosting the typical business card collection contest, instruct attendees to only give their cards to people they’ve shared their story with.
Build Something Together
When people have a task to complete together, they instantly have something to talk about. You can give attendees a strange set of supplies and ask them to build the tallest structure they can or take a more meaningful approach by building lamps for a charity like SolarBuddy. Try to choose activities that are simple enough to allow teams to engage in conversation while they work. Be sure to have someone leading this activity and periodically announcing new topics for conversation.
Take all of the awkwardness out of approaching strangers by pairing people off for brief (two to seven minute), prompted conversations. One way to efficiently pair people is to give everyone a number when they arrive at your event. Have odd numbers remain in place for the duration of the activity. Then, have even numbers rotate around the room for each round of conversation. Prompt each round with questions that are meaningful but that won’t necessarily make anyone panic about figuring out an answer. Questions like “Who was your favorite speaker from today?” or “What’s one thing you’ve learned at this event?” are engaging, but less overwhelming than, “What’s the most important thing you’ve ever done in your career?” Be sure to suggest that they have business cards readily available to exchange so they can find compatible connections after the session.
Whatever specific activities you choose to use, remember these key tips for helping attendees make meaningful connections:
✓ Don’t leave networking events completely unstructured. Although it may seem like you’re giving attendees the freedom to mingle, many people find it stressful to walk up to strangers without any clear purpose.
✓ Avoid putting people on the spot with hard questions. Some people may thrive on it, but lots of people freeze up and feel even more awkward than they did to begin with.
✓ Don’t ask questions that are too hard, but don’t make them too superficial, either. Ask poignant questions that are relevant to the purpose of your conference and the reasons your attendees want to connect. A few simple questions, like everyone’s favorite colors are fine, but that’s not why you’re there. If you want to ask some hard questions, consider prompting attendees to think of an answer ahead of time.