Your conference agenda will certainly be full of events to provide information, inspire people to action, or improve performance. But surveys show the No. 1 reason people attend such events is to meet new people, talk, and share ideas or even complaints. So for a successful conference, incorporate creative ways to encourage networking to give attendees what they want most.
Set them free
What’s the best way to allow people to socialize? It’s not by packing your schedule so tightly that attendees don’t have time to strike up informal conversations with each other. That is, after all, the purpose of holding in-person events: making connections. Otherwise, you might as well hold it virtually.
So leave plenty of free time on the agenda for your attendees to circulate and build relationships.
At the same time, be sure to build plenty of networking opportunities into the schedule. Let attendees know this is their time to network with their counterparts.
These can include:
- an early morning meet and greet
- extended coffee breaks
- box luncheons
- cocktail hours
- games or team building activities
Offer organic networking
Provide networking opportunities during the actual conference. After a particularly challenging presentation, for instance, create informal teams to discuss what they’ve heard and present reports to the group.
Or do the corporate equivalent of speed “dating,” but instead make it speed networking. Here’s how: Set up tables, provide ice-breaker questions, and give participants five minutes to ask and answer the questions before moving on to the next table.
Name badges may seem hopelessly old fashioned, but they still work. They’ll not only help attendees’ memories, but if you include an interesting tidbit or fact on each tag, they’re also an automatic conversation starter.
Offer an app
Don’t overlook the convenience of a conference app for facilitating group chats, exchanging business cards, making announcements, and so on.
There are many on the market to choose from, so find one that blends with your overall conference goals.
Select the right venue
If you choose a venue that is outside the typical boring hotel conference room, you’ll automatically give your attendees an opening conversational gambit.
For example, you could hold your meeting or conference at downtown Miami’s Historic Alfred I. duPont Building.
Its 1920s Art Deco ambiance is not only elegant and impressive; it’s also filled with historical details that are natural conversation starters.