Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

5 Ways to Spur More Effective Networking

We all know that people come to conferences for two main reasons: Content and connection. In fact, three-quarters of respondents in the International Association of Exhibitions and Events “Decision to Attend” study said networking and making connections is important — and that rises to 84 percent among millennials. So sure, the event logistics you sweat blood over are important, but unless something goes drastically wrong, that’s not what your attendees are going to remember about the event once they return to their offices.

“Networking is why people come and why they come back,” said Liz King Caruso, CEO and chief event specialist of Liz King Events, at a session she led during the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convening Leaders conference in January. “Content is great, but people come to an event to meet people.”

Here are just a few of the ideas she shared on how you can maximize networking at your next event:

1. Create an environment that invites connection. Unique venues that offer interesting spaces, furniture, and nooks and crannies are a good place to start, King said, citing the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago as a prime example of a venue that inspires creativity and engagement.

2. Create space in the agenda. While everyone needs a bio break, remember that your attendees are adults — they don’t need to wait for an official intermission to hit the bathroom or grab a beverage. Instead of providing the usual coffee breaks, which people spend on their phones while waiting in line for bathrooms and beverages, remind them to take a break whenever they need to during the program. “We’re losing attention and not getting it back,” King said. Consider removing coffee breaks altogether and instead giving an hour-and-a-half or two-hour lunch break so people have plenty of time to eat, use the restroom and check email — all those things that have to happen — but also have a real conversation without missing a session.

3. Create physical space for connecting. While having conversation areas with comfy seating and a modicum of privacy is a great start, why not provide intentional space, not just empty space? King suggested including activations that will give people reasons to talk to each other naturally, such as tech demos. These might be good opportunities for sponsors to get conversations going, not necessarily about their products per se but about hot topics in the industry, or whatever might light up your group’s attention.

4. Maximize dining opportunities. While it’s tempting to cram content into every possible moment — and meals are often reserved for association business meetings, awards ceremonies and keynote speakers — you may be missing some prime connection time by not providing some white space over meal gatherings. “It’s always easier to talk over food,” King said.

5. Balance structured and unstructured networking time. In addition to creating spaces where connections and ad hoc conversations can just happen, also think about how you can create facilitated networking opportunities. For example, ask session leaders to have audience members pair up and discuss an aspect of the session topic with each other. During meals, consider suggesting table topics and enlisting facilitators to provide expertise and to ensure the conversations flow.

Look for more networking tips and strategies in an upcoming issue of MeetingMentor magazine. — Sue Pelletier

Note: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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