Conference Networking on Steroids


If you’re like most people, you probably do not know how to network effectively.

Yes, that’s right; most of us do not network correctly.

Put us into a large intimidating conference setting and our abilities are really tested. However, ask any attendee what they really want out of their time and attendance at your live event, and they’ll tell you networking.

They want networking, but they’re not so sure how to make it happen. That’s your job as a conference organizer—to foster networking opportunities.

Networking Is Misunderstood

Networking is very misunderstood. It’s not about working the room and getting the most business cards. It’s about connecting intentionally, mutually and unselfishly with others to build meaningful relationships.

Meetings need to be designed to nurture these high-quality connections that your attendees desperately want. Speed networking is not your answer.

Attendees Crave Connections And Community (Connexity)

Attendees crave meaningful connections with like-minded people who have tacit knowledge (know-how) that will help them do their jobs faster, better and easier. We like to call that connexity: helping attendees make connections with their communities. They need your help to find these people at the start of the event, or better yet before they even get there, so they can begin connecting with their tribe.

Planning a networking reception or adding a networking break to your agenda does not usually turn into a great opportunity for like-minded connections to occur. You need to help “facilitate” these connections by intentionally designing experiences that lead to connexity.

Frequently, veterans and senior industry leaders that you want to attract to your annual meeting are looking for peer-education experiences that can be delivered through networking. You have to figure out how to bake these networking experiences into all aspects of your meeting.

Two Innovative Ways To Deliver More Networking Value

Here are two creative and cost-effective ways to deliver more networking value.

1) Assemble a Human Library

The National Speakers Association engaged their members that were high influencers, decision-makers and well-known practitioners to serve as “Human Experts.” Attendees could schedule up to 75-minutes of one-on-one consultative sessions with these thought leaders throughout the four-day conference. Members could “check out” the expert, share their critical challenges and get sage advice to improve their situation. There was no prep for this as the instructions were to be an “open book.” Listen to what one member had to say about her Experience.

2) Design a Tribe Lounge

Create an innovative lounge for your like-minded community. Contact a local furniture rental center where your meeting is located that will deliver loveseats, over-stuffed chairs and recliners to create a “Meet Your Tribe Lounge.” This becomes a go-to-place for attendees to gather, share resources and build relationships. I’ve seen two associations accomplish this recently for about $250 total for all the furniture needed including delivery and pickup for a 7-day rental! Include a few power strips so attendees can “recharge” their batteries (metaphorically and literally). Note: just make sure that you are not stepping on toes with any exclusive agreements with your decorator or venue when you secure a local furniture rental center.

What are some other ways to bake connexity, connecting through networking and community, into your events? What tips do you have about designing and fostering networking experiences for your attendees?

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  1. thom singer says:

    Jeff Sarah-

    These are both great ideas. I saw the NSA Human Library and it was a big success for those who came to utilize it. The big problem is so many attendees are fearful of trying new things that they miss out on great opportunities that the planners add into the program.

    The Tribe Lounge is a wonderful, but the group has to be open to allowing “tribes” or other “Sub-communities” to be created and thrive without supervision from the association. They cannot force, monitor, or own a tribe!


  2. Sarah Michel says:

    Thanks Thom for your thoughtful comment. Yes, we need to design and create these spaces throughout the meeting and then get out of the way so the connections can happen organically!

  3. We’re better at any task to the extent that we prepare in advance. So give your attendees a way to prepare! Don’t guard the list of who’s coming as if it were a state secret. Give your attendees a list of who’s coming AND THE MEANS TO CONTACT each other.

    That’s our bread-and-butter at Pathable (, building ONLINE COMMUNITIES FOR EVENTS, where attendees can pre-network, get familiar with each other, start conversations, learn faces, figure out who they want to meet in person, so that by the time they arrive, they’re ready to turn on the connexity.

    And, of course, it’s a way to continue the conversation, community and connexity even after the physical event itself is over.

  4. Alon Alroy says:

    I really like the idea of something like the Tribe Lounge- having a place that’s open and designated for meeting others is key. However, there’s still going to be the same stumbling blocks for most attendees of how to approach others, start a relevant conversation and make the step towards forging a mutually beneficial relationship.

    An event networking app like Bizzabo (disclaimer: I’m the co-founder) makes that initial step of reaching out not only easy, but prepares attendees for making connections in a way that’s much more effective than wandering a room reading nametags.

    Bizzabo ( can provide a social roadmap for attendees to see who shares their interests, industry, and even their current LinkedIn connections. Having a platform that lets event goers message each other before, during, and even after the event, is a networking game changer. Once attendees have made that initial contact, that’s when designated meeting spaces become truly effective and help digital relationships become established in person. Thanks for this great post.

  5. I may be biased here, but…How about taking your conference to sea? The self-contained environment of a cruise ship lends itself beautifully to “connexity”. Plenty of dining venues and places to meet up after conference sessions. Shared experiences – both at sea and ashore – naturally promote stronger relationships.

  6. […] Michel’s recent post has some great insights for planners on how to deliver true networking value at your next event. I […]

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