Networking is an important part of life, and it can be both pleasant and profitable when done successfully. As an event planner, you’re in a unique position to bring people together and help them form new connections.
Imagine if a lucrative partnership started at your business conference. Or if a romantic relationship started at your singles event. Your event would forever be remembered as the place where it all began.
So without further ado, let’s go over…
- The types of events where networking is essential.
- Why it’s your responsibility to facilitate networking.
- Ten ideas to encourage networking at your event.
Which types of events need to focus on attendee networking?
Generally speaking, all events should facilitate networking between the attendees.
Whether you’re planning a wedding where two families meet or a conference for business professionals, it’s your job to encourage networking.
That said, there are events where networking is crucial to their success.
You can attend a music concert, not make any new friends, and still come away with a positive experience (if the band was good). But people usually attend business conferences with the intention of making new connections, whether it’s potential clients or candidates for a position.
So here’s the litmus test: Will your attendees feel the event was a waste of time and money if they haven’t met any new people? If so, then you have to find ways to encourage networking between them.
Why it’s up to you to help attendees network
Well, you’re the event planner. Your business depends on the attendees’ impression of the event. If they walk away without any meaningful experiences, they won’t come back.
Maybe you feel like it’s not your responsibility or that it’s awkward to push people to talk to each other. But not every event attendee is an extrovert social butterfly. Some might secretly want help to break the ice.
If you want a bit of insight into the challenges of networking for certain personality types, have a look at tips for networking as an introvert. It’ll help you accommodate your attendees’ individual networking preferences.
10 ideas to encourage networking at your event
We’ve covered the what and the why. Now it’s time to look at the how.
Here are ten ideas to help you encourage networking at your event and give attendees the best experience possible.
1. Build an online community
You can encourage networking between attendees before the event has even begun. Build an online community on your website or social media to facilitate discussions before, during, and after the event.
Tip: Read this guide on how to build an online community as an event organiser.
2. Use name badges
Name badges can seem old school, but they work. Just make sure that they’re simple and easy to read so no one has to lean in to read the name. It’s an awkward way to start a conversation.
Tip: Here’s a guide on how to make name badges for an event in five minutes or less.
3. Host networking sessions
Unless the event itself is dedicated to networking, make sure to include a breakout segment. It could be a conference dinner, a speed-networking session, or a team-building activity.
Tip: Use any of these 14 ideas for breakout sessions at your next event.
4. Play musical chairs
If your event is seated, then your attendees will spend most of their time talking to the people next to them. Plan for seat rotation throughout the event so everyone gets to know each other.
Tip: There are tools to help you generate a seating chart for speed networking events.
5. Set up table topics
Not everyone knows how to small talk, so it’s good to have a suggestion or two. Place a sign with a relevant topic for discussion on each table to help get the conversation started.
6. Use a dedicated networking space
It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation in a noisy environment. If your event is crowded, try to section off a part of the venue for small groups or one-on-one sessions.
Tip: Use this guide to engaging room layouts as a reference for your next event.
7. Serve food and drinks
Nibbles are not only a nice touch, but they’re also great conversation starters. You can even introduce the food and drinks by describing where it’s sourced from to kick off the small talk.
Tip: We’ve written a guide on how to choose a caterer for your event to help you out.
8. Use an event app
Many event apps come with features similar to social media. Find one that facilitates discussions, people matching, check-ins, and a news feed for everything related to your event.
9. Partner up with nearby venues
You can partner with nearby restaurants if you’re organising a conference. Negotiate a discount for your attendees. The restaurant gets a group booking and your attendees get a cheap networking dinner.
Tip: Read our guide on how to negotiate with venues and vendors to get the best deal.
10. Make a networking guide
You can help attendees out by providing them with tips on how to network at your event. Include information such as how to fill out their attendee profile or where to find the networking areas.
Tip: Use this article on how to navigate networking events as inspiration for your own guide.
Let’s create some new connections
You now have a bunch of solid ideas to encourage networking at your event. Remember that not all your attendees will find it easy to approach strangers.
If you can help them off to a good start, it could lead to a great conversation and a long-lasting relationship.
As an event planner, you’re able to make all the difference.
If you have any networking tips of your own, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments!