You don’t need a helmet, knee or elbow pads to be an Extreme Networker. Heck you don’t even need to be on Twitter or Facebook (but they’ve been known to help). You just need to jump in and work it baby. Work “Extreme Networking,” that is.
One of the huge differentiators that make live events far superior to virtual is the relationships that are developed and grown in person. That’s where the ultimate trust is realized. For example, I might be impressed with your thought leadership through your online actions or maybe even a phone call together. But if I was considering hiring you, I’m not making that final call until after I look you in the eyes and press some flesh.
Strong relationships forged by face-to-face give you a significant advantage no matter what side of the table you sit on unless you are buying or selling lower priced commodities.
Meeting organizers need to do everything they can to accelerate and increase the networking power of their live events. For most, it’s the greatest reason for attending and for coming back next year. To realize that competitive advantage, connecting your attendees and members needs to be part of your culture. You need to take a no-holds-barred approach to Extreme Networking.
With that in mind, Jeff and I wrote a couple of articles in PCMA’s Convene on tactics for taking your conference networking to new levels. In the January column, Is Your Networking Working? we discussed how conference design and low tech approaches can help spawn more networking. Here’s a recap of the 15 ways to provide more structured networking at your next meeting.
1. Secure volunteer greeters and connectors for each session.
2. Ask speakers to weave a networking activity into their sessions.
3. Take a page from Apple retail stores’ Genius Bars, and secure industry veterans or influencers and staff expert bars.
4. Designate special sections in the hotel’s restaurants for conference guests. Encourage the hotel to seat individual attendees with a group or another party of one from your conference.
5. Rope off special sections in meeting rooms for preferred seating.
6. Hold early-morning coffee klatches.
7. Design a Breakout Café.
8. Plan a table-storming session.
9. Schedule book clubs.
10. Program an “unmeeting” session. Attendees enter a room, put one issue they want to discuss on a sticky note, and post it on a board. Attendees separate into topic-based discussion groups.
11. Hold peer-to-peer roundtable discussions.
12. Create speed-networking sessions. Allot three-minute slots for attendees to meet one-on-one and exchange business cards.
13. Add a team-building or community-service project to your agenda.
14. Use name tents for each attendee at a table.
15. Use meeting room setups that help encourage networking.
What do you think of the recommendations listed? Are there others that you would add?
If you are a regular subscriber to PCMA’s Convene, the February issue should be hitting your desk in the next few days. In that issue we continue the networking theme, but made it all about using technology to help. Be on the lookout.
Parts of this post were reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2009 pcma.org
Carol Verret says
Great post and may I add how much I love the design of the blog!
@CarolVerret, thanks for the comments! Love reading your sales and revenue management stuff.
Ashley Spitzer says
This is a well put together, easy to implement list for organizers. I particularly enjoy the restaurant seating recommendation. It’s one thing to sit down at an open table during a session, but working with the hotel to seat attendees together in a restaurant setting is an excellent networking technique. Thanks for sharing these!
@ashley Thanks for pointing the restaurant seating item out. I think the big takeaway is to enlist the help of your venue to help more networking happen. I like what Sheraton hotels have done in their lobbies to promote networking.
Tony Stubblebine says
Dave, you covered the best tips, so your call to action is hard for me to live up to. The one area that I’d add to is to work speakers into the networking. There are a lot of attendees who look up to the speakers but feel they’re unapproachable. I’ve tried speed Q/A, five tables, 8 people per table, one “name” per table, and then have the “names” rotate every five minutes. But I’m sure there are other ways to get speakers and attendees talking.
@Tony Great addition to the list! Small group learning environments can really help ignite and grow relationships. Did you here about the Fishbowl Session at EventCamp?
Margaret Core says
Just found your blog — excellent! We have a successful Think and Drink at the end of the day near the exit as they see the shuttle lines they have the option of joining the Think and Drink — first 50 folks get a beer –others pay at the cash bar —- scientist panel sit on 4 bar stools with microphones and have a moderated discussion while others drink their beer and chime in
Margaret Core eventmarketing2.blogspot.com
Dave Lutz says
@margaret, thanks for the addition! A little bit of alcohol and shop talk beat the heck out of waiting in a bus line.