Event planners became extremely creative during the pandemic with virtual events. However, most agree that in-person networking was the most difficult part to replicate virtually.
That’s why industry research continues to find networking is among attendee’s top reasons to attend an in-person conference in 2023 and beyond. While it’s always been important, attendees now fully understand the impact, and miss the human connection.
As in-person conferences and events return in full-force, how can you turbocharge this important element? Below are six emerging and tried-and-true networking ideas to boost conversation, and make networking more valuable than ever for your attendees.
Pre-Event Conversation Groups
One of the biggest trends in recent years is to encourage your registrants to connect in the weeks leading up to the event in some form of private group or forum. Sometimes, event organizers post weekly prompts to kick off conversations. The prompts can be industry related questions, ice breakers, or anything that will get people chatting. This can be done on many platforms including:
- Many event apps have a feature for this
- LinkedIn Groups / LinkedIn Events
- Private Slack Channels (Slack has a great guide on how to do this)
When attendees arrive, they’ll already have made some connections and will recognize people’s names. This deepens networking, and gives a more community-based feel to your event.
Companies like Grip, Brella, Swapcard and many other companies offer AI matchmaking before, during, and after your event.
Though each platform differs, the basic premise is that the platform connects your attendees by scanning their interests and networking goals, and matches people automatically. The platforms also store virtual business cards, making swapping contact info easy.
The more you use AI matchmaking, the more accurate it will be. As Brella describes, their algorithm “learns from previous events and from how attendees choose which people to meet to continuously improve matchmaking quality.”
Conversation Starter Badges
Ever have trouble thinking of how to say hello? Conversation starter badges help.
Jabberyak is a company that specializes in this. Here’s how it works: Attendees select from a list of interests during the registration process, or write their own. Their interests are then printed on their badge that they pick up at registration. The interests can be professional, personal, or a combination of both.
Offer a valuable prize for whoever can fill out their printed bingo card first, which you populate with different qualities to learn about in a person. For example, “Someone who owns a pet other than a cat or dog.” Or, “Someone who is in the first year of their new job.”
Pro tip: The better the prize, the more dedicated people will be to connecting and filling out their cards! Consider getting a niche luxury item people don’t usually buy for themselves, like a Roomba, noise-canceling headphones, or a spa gift certificate.
Adam Nekola, the Senior Digital Manager at ONA, has a great Medium post describing his experience playing networking bingo. He describes making solid, memorable connections with people by asking questions about first cars, teenage jobs, and even seeing “Cats” on Broadway.
“Initially it felt like we were trading baseball cards. We’d walk up to a group, share a few jokes, and move on,” he writes. “I wanted to make sure I was getting the most out of the experience. I became committed to learning about each of these people.”
Brainstorming Canvas / Wall
Cover a blank wall to create a giant canvas. Buy art supplies like markers, post-it notes, or chalk. Then, prompt attendees with ideas. Some examples of networking questions:
- Ideas for solving an industry-wide problem
- Ideas for topics to cover at your next event
- Proudest accomplishment this year
- Top takeaways from the event
- Their experience in three words
Your wall becomes a hub of conversation and mingling. There are tons of inspiration images on Pinterest for the many shapes and sizes your wall can take. Consider hiring a chalk artist or other local artist to create a base canvas that’s compelling and on-brand.
Conversation Starter Coffee Cups
A viral post shared by Julius Solaris has reinvigorated printed coffee cups into an ongoing networking trend. Similar to the conversation starter badges, coffee cups with an array of interests and topics pre-printed on them let people share what they’re most excited to connect on. Keep permanent markers next to the coffee station for people who’d like to write their own topic!
Consider getting cups that are biodegradable, recyclable, or cups that are made-of-recyclable materials.
Topic Specific Table Tents
Simple but effective. Walking up to a hightop table is a lot less intimidating if there are table tents encouraging conversation around particular topics at specific tables.
Pick topics that people will truly want to talk and share stories about! For example, ask people their top lessons learned in the industry, their thoughts on the most underrated software/tool/resource in the industry, or even top leadership tips.
To take the pressure off and encourage a mix of conversations, you can also include some tables that feature personal interests, like favorite movie or TV show of the year.
Planning an event, and need more networking ideas? Our event planners specialize in details like this to make your conference or other corporate event memorable. Don’t hesitate to reach out!