Three Amen-Astonishing Ways To Improve Your Conference Networking

2014.04.21_Network of bees

Networking! It’s one of the top reasons participants say they attend your conference.

Yet few know how to do it effectively.

Give them a helping hand.

Networking’s Value Proposition

Networking can be the most subjective and variable portion of your conference value proposition. For some, one or two meaningful interactions can more than justify the price of admission.

High-value networking experiences initiate or accelerate deals. They expedite problem solving and innovation. They grow referral channels and trust. They advance careers.

Moving forward, your conference’s networking value proposition will make or break your ability to sustain or grow attendance. It will be the lynchpin for conferences that are priced at a premium.

The Strong Ties Hitch

But there’s a hitch.

If your conference demographics are like most, as much as half of your attendees are introverts.

Introverts and some extroverts instinctively gravitate to people they know well (strong ties). This limits their opportunity to gain new insights, perspectives, and ideas from weak ties (people they don’t know well or at all). Weak ties also live and work in worlds outside of theirs.

The easier you can make it for people to step out of their immediate sphere of influence — and comfort zone — the more they will perceive your conference as valuable.

Three Tips To Increase Connections

Here are three ways to help your attendees make more weak ties at your conference:

1. Use data intelligence to accelerate connections.

As a conference organizer, you need to develop a deep understanding of what keeps your practitioner attendees up at night. What are the biggest challenges they face? Where are they spending their time and money? Surveys and data collected during registration can help. But the best way is to have discovery conversations, one on one, where you can develop deeper insight. Get to the bottom of these priorities and ensure that your conference education and community engagement collaboratively address each. Don’t worry about consultant, student, or supplier segment challenges. Trust me on this.

2. Escort hallway networking into session rooms.

Secure and coach speakers that design learning experiences that strengthen weak ties and collaboration. Start each session with an easy networking exercise that breaks the ice and encourages attendees to meet someone new. Introverts prefer networking experiences where they can individually reflect before sharing. Networking value is best achieved in pairs or triads. Use creative room sets (small tables, comfortable seating in intimate groupings) and high- and low-tech ways to encourage peer interaction.

3. Switch it up at seated meal functions.

Take a page from The NeuroLeadership Institute. They’re smart people, right? At their conference, each meal function included a structured networking activity. Their leadership intentionally removed formal programs and encouraged attendees to sit with people they didn’t know. They primed the pump by offering potential discussion topics or questions to discuss in-between bites and courses.

Networking Deserves Some Respect

It’s time conference professionals gave networking the respect it deserves in the planning process.

Stand in the intersection of your conference community and actively look for ways to intentionally connect people, opportunities, and ideas. Think of yourself as a connector.

What are some other tips you have to improve conference networking? How can we evaluate conference networking to show it’s true value?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2014.

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