Networking: there’s more to it than business professionals speed handshaking while exchanging business cards.
It’s an opportunity to connect and link with others as you share information, services and ideas with each other.
Attendee Networking Expectations Increase
There is no doubt about it. Conference attendee networking expectations are on the rise!
Your conference is often your stakeholders’ best opportunity to connect in person with thought leaders and colleagues.
While we intuitively know this, networking at most conferences continues to be a random, luck-of-the-draw encounter.
There’s a better way.
Facilitating Planned Networking Serendipity
By definition, serendipity is a happy accident or surprising discovery that comes when we least expect it.
Planned serendipity, on the other hand, is an effort to increase the likelihood and frequency of these discoveries. And it’s happening all around us.
Retail stores collect volumes of your product-purchase data. Suddenly, you’re getting discount offers that mirror the products and services you purchase most.
Have you noticed any changes in your Google-search results? Data from social-media profiles now factor into search results.
When planned serendipity is executed well, customers notice and appreciate far better experiences. When planned serendipity efforts are more obvious or cross privacy lines, customers feel manipulated, even deceived, and relationships deteriorate.
For years, your customers (attendees) have been sharing valuable data with you that can help create the kind of planned-serendipity moments they will prize at your conferences. Have you been paying attention?
Using Data To Foster Planned Serendipity
If you’ve been capturing and analyzing attendee data, you already know what drives people to register for your conference, which sessions they enjoy most, what products and services interest them, and what critical issues are top of mind at any given point. This is precisely the information you need to help identify others they should meet at your conference.
Here are three ways to make those connections more likely:
1. House conference guests on the same floors.
When like-minded attendees are in closer proximity, the chances for them to meet and engage in meaningful conversations increase. Because they’re enrolled in the same learning track, they’ll recognize each other when waiting for the elevator. In social psychology circles, there’s a phenomenon known as the “mere-exposure effect” — people develop preferences for things (or people) simply because they are more familiar with them. The more a person is seen by someone, the more likeable that person becomes.
2. Create small-group seating clusters to spark impromptu conversations.
In meeting rooms, create pod-seating clusters where four to six people can easily gather and chat. Create similar cluster-seating arrangements at restaurants, in lobbies and surrounding all networking receptions. You’ll be amazed at how connections and conversations accelerate.
3. Train staff and volunteers to be connectors.
As participants arrive at sessions and receptions, staff and volunteers need to be on their toes, circulating and engaging in conversations. Show staff and volunteers how to ask participants the kinds of questions (e.g., What session did you enjoy most today?) that can guide them in making valuable introductions to others. This is particularly important for new and introverted members who may not know many people and who would appreciate the extra-mile effort from your team. Create an army of connectors and networking conversations multiply.
Want more information? Download a sample chapter of the new book Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business.
What are some sample questions your army of connectors can ask attendees to connect them with others? What are some other ways you can create planned serendipity at your conference?
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2012.
Jay S. Daughtry says
I’ve been thinking through these very kinds of things, Dave. Thanks for passing along the ideas. I like this notion of an “army of connectors”, can be vital. I’ve certainly seen it at work with Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and similar events.
John Cargile says
I like the article a lot, especially the “army of connectors” term. We have seen many events adopt technology to enact planned serendipity. But the key has the influencing speakers, attendees, bloggers, and staff members who drive the connection success.
Dave Lutz says
@Jay thanks for commenting. Some Chamber of Commerce events and even churches are good examples of how the army of connectors can be engaged. Wouldn’t it be nice if staff, board and committee members went out of their way to help welcome and attempt to improve the networks of the participants? Instead, many hang with each other or have committee meetings.
@John technology can definitely help accelerate connections…especially when it can deliver recommendations based on shared interests and existing connections. Thanks for adding your thoughts!