Want To Help Your Attendees? Stop Calling It Networking!


Attendees value the connections they make at your conference. It’s one of their most treasured intangible benefits of attendance.

They come to your event looking for their people. They meet many of your attendees at receptions, meals, sessions and in the hallways.

Unfortunately, many of those introductions are nothing more than empty interactions. They don’t really connect with others.

Then loneliness creeps in. They feel isolated and alone in a sea of others. That loneliness makes navigating your conference even more difficult.

Your Networking Opportunity

This presents a huge opportunity for conference organizers. Loneliness doesn’t occur just because of fewer interactions with others. It frequently occurs because of meaningless interactions.

As a meeting professional, you can intentionally design experiences that foster interactions with depth not width. You can create oasis in deserts of conference loneliness. These metaphorical watering holes become areas where people can gather and authentically connect. They find refuge and relief at this conference oasis amidst the conference’s hectic schedule and frantic pace.

Why Traditional Networking Doesn’t Work

If you’re calling it networking, you might be repelling attendees from this experience. They equate networking with frantic interactions, not authentic connections.

Most people think of networking as shameless self-promotion that you must do to get a transaction. Speed networking only reinforces this.

People seek authentic connections. They want a chance to build a relationship. They want to connect on a deeper level with someone that will last beyond the conference.

Your conference fosters face to face interactions. And attendees don’t want a sales pitch. They just want to make friends who share a common interest or passion.

Stop Calling It Networking

We need to stop using the word networking. It has too much negative baggage attached to it.

I coined and trademarked the term NetWORTHing® in 2005 to put the emphasis on being the first one in a relationship to offer value. I know how misunderstood networking actually is. Velvet Chainsaw uses the word connexity to encourage connections and community.

What term will you use?

Connection Lessons From Malaysia

I recently traveled to Malaysia and discovered Malaysians don’t like the word networking. Their culture values authentic connections.

Malaysians present their business card to each other-with their hands together, palms up, symbolically asking; how can I be a resource to you?

When a Malaysian presents their card to you, they’re offering themselves and their network as a resource. And it’s an honor to receive that card and all it represents.

Typical Malaysian conferences have 30 minute breaks and 90 minutes luncheons without a speaker. They believe that connecting with others is just as important as the content. So they treat them equally.

Networking Is A Noun And Verb

Networking is both a noun and a verb.

Most of us treat networking as a passive transaction that produces a sale, a promotion, a new job or a step up to something better.

We’ve got to stop treating it as a byproduct of a transactional experience. We need to eliminate the shameless self-promotion of networking. We need to decrease rapid business card exchanges.

Instead we should create experiences that foster active interactions that are relational, not transactional. We need to promote authentic connections that nuture meaning and depth.

We should adopt a conference networking mantra of helping over selling. Encourage your staff and leadership to embrace this critical differentiator and be an activist in amplifying it.

Want more information? The May Sticky Conference newsletter shares a number of ideas and resources that will help you on your journey.

What other names have you seen conferences use instead of networking? If you’ve ever attended a conference where connecting was intentionally designed throughout the experience, what was that like?

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  1. Chris Martin says:

    People have spoiled the word Networking, especially the sales and marketing guys have used it with their convenience. Artists’ don’t need to be shamelessly distributing their contact numbers or pamper some guy just to get a booking. Rather, they have a more creative chance to increase their auidience, improving the performances. As simple as that, they are not the product, their art is.

  2. Sarah Michel says:

    Thanks Chris for reading the post. I love your comment, “They are not the product, their art is” Very true. It reminded me of something I often share with audiences who want to know how they can be a more effective netWORTHer. I tell them to just BE someone people will want to connect with. It’s really that simple.

  3. amy says:

    I love the idea of renaming “networking”….but the problem is: if you call it something else, attendees don’t understand what it is. For instance: the mentioned ‘connexity’ sounds like a marketing invention and ‘netWORTHing’ just sounds twee. How do we reinvent and reintroduce without alienating the attendees?

    1. Henry says:

      How about “gathering”, then? It sounds less formal, it points the objective to getting together clearly, and the dictionary is clear about its meaning.

  4. Brian Steacy says:

    One of the most enduring relationships borne of a “networking” event came from a competition I participated in with a team of randomly assigned marketers. We were assigned a task to develop and present a marketing campaign for the San Diego Zoo. With limited time to complete the assignment there was no time for awkward pleasantries. We quickly had to get to know each others’ strengths and apply them to the task. Our score was based on our use of the content presented by the speakers so this exercise had the added incentive to demonstrate and apply our learning from the conference. It’s entirely likely that because we won the top prize this contributed significantly to my affection toward my fellow teammates. Still, it demonstrates an approach to ‘networking’ that left an impression on me and yielded professional benefits for years.

  5. Sarah Michel says:

    Brian, thanks for your “shared experience” example, When we bake opportunities for serendipitous connections to happen over shared experiences, meaningful connections occur! I love that you’re still connected to these “unlikely allies” years later!

    Amy, I don’t know that it matters what you call it (networking or something else). What matters is your intention. If your intention is to help facilitate meaningful connections that will continue beyond the conference you’re helping your attendees.

  6. This is a good article. I liked your coined term “connexity”, as these types of events are really all about connections (and yes within a community). The problem that I have with these types of events is that people will come up to you and start pitching their product or services. To me that’s a big turn off. These events are about connections. But, like all good things, it takes time to nurture relationships. Be genuine, ask questions of people and have a good time. You’re there to learn as well. The business side of things will grow from there.

  7. Thanks Sarah,

    This is a valuable post. I will never call it “networking” again! I must say the Malaysian way of seems to foster more connection.


  8. Sarah Michel says:

    Thanks for all the GREAT comments and discussion! Henry, LOVE the idea of calling it “A Gathering”

    The term networking just isn’t cutting it anymore. We need to reach higher. You need to come up with a term that makes your attendee stop in their tracks and do a double take. Get them to ask, “what is this about?” and you can tell them it’s all about helping you make more authentic connections. hang signs that say “no selling, only helping allowed.”

    Please let me know if any of you try this and what term you used and what your outcome was. I would be happy to do a follow-up post with success stories!

    Keep Perfecting Your Connecting!!!

    1. JB Werner says:

      Do we really need a term to be genuinely concerned and interested in the needs of others?

  9. Amy O'Malley says:

    ‘@JBWerner I agree, it would be an awful existence if peopled didn’t want to meet and have concern for others. I think the activities or thoughtfulness around networking is what can make an impact. It’s taking the same consideration for seating arrangements at an intimate dinner party and allowing for organic connections to be built. It tends to be people with the same purpose behind why they do what they do that make longer lasting connections. We need to stop just allowing an open room for networking and delivering a way to navigate the connection building experience.

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