Networking is a primary reason why people attend conferences and trade shows. Fail to provide participants with adequate networking opportunities and you may find they won’t return the next year Ensuring attendees make meaningful connections isn’t as simple as serving food and drink and hoping a party atmosphere will take care of the rest. Effective networking events require strategy, structure and focus.
It’s All About Relationship Building
Effective networking events aren’t just transactional; they’re about relationships. Make sure you have a structured approach to relationship-building in your event plans.
Give participants 30 minutes to mingle informally before and after any structured networking approach. Follow this with a disciplined and structured approach to make sure conversations are focused and productive. Attendees will make much more efficient use of their time than an evening of just ‘mixing and mingling’.
Here are 4 effective networking formats to try.
1. The Quick Pitch
Each participant has time to give a one-minute elevator pitch or referral request (make sure you give them plenty of preparation time). Attendees write any leads or referrals on the back of business cards (one lead per card). These should consist of the name, phone number, and email address for the lead and identify the specific service/product that may interest them.
Pass round a bucket to gather the cards. Give the collected cards to the pitching participant.
2. Speed Networking
Much like a speed-dating event, the room is set up with tables that can each accommodate two people. The first person gives his or her introduction and an elevator pitch or referral request. The person across from them does their best to provide contact information for someone who may need their services.
After five minutes, a buzzer or bell signals that it is time to switch roles. At the second buzzer, one participant at each table moves to the next table.
3. Power Networking Circles
Group tables in clusters of six tables with six participants per table. Number the tables A1, A2, A3…., B1, B2, B3….etc. Each individual has five minutes to give an elevator pitch, request a referral or describe a problem he or she is facing. At the first bell, the other five people at the table try to help the individual. After 10 minutes, the bell rings again and the next person in the circle has a turn.
After an hour, ask people to switch to a different table within their cluster (e.g. A or B). After a break, continue the process.
4. App Generated Networking
The great benefit of apps is that you can pre-load participant information. Include a networking tab where each participant can fill in an elevator pitch or referral request. Provide time slots in the calendar for a structured networking event (like the ones discussed above) at a specific time and place. Provide slots for a 60 – 90 minute structured networking sessions.
Encourage participants to pre-schedule appointments with each other. Provide time during one of the general sessions for participants to send and reply to connection requests. During the networking session, participants meet during their pre-scheduled connection times.
At the end of the networking session, remind everyone to give their peers a “heads up” about who will be contacting them and the reason for their contact. It’s always worth encouraging participants to continue to connect with each other after the session ends.
To assess the effectiveness of the chosen exercise, ask participants to track all leads and referrals that they hand out.
Effective networking isn’t a happy accident. Taking the time to provide participants with meaningful networking means they’re much more likely to support your events again and again.