Events remain valuable for publishers, bringing in new relationships and increasing revenue. But they also offer the opportunity to bring new value to your clients.
“Your event will be remembered by the connections and relationships it helped to create,” writes Catalina Guerra at event marketing software company Bizzabo. “Beyond key speakers and sponsors, networking opportunities should be a main offering powering your event. As an organizer, part of your event strategy is to facilitate networking between attendees in order for them to get the most value.”
One of the biggest things people want out of events, trade shows and conferences is networking opportunities. But in an increasingly digital world a lot of these face-to-face opportunities are lost. How can you rectify that?
Making the move to host an event is a start toward encouraging these face-to-face interactions, bringing value to your buyers. But how do you actually facilitate networking at these events?
#1: Do your homework
“Not many event creators think about the entire buyer’s journey — from motivation, to discovery, purchase, and even after the event,” writes Katie Sawyer at Eventbrite. “But knowing what your attendees think, feel, and do throughout that process is essential to turning potential fans into loyal ones.”
The same can be said for B2B events.
Getting event attendees to engage with both you and other attendees requires some strategic effort. Some of it will happen organically, but you should put in the work in the months leading up to the event to be sure know how everybody fits together.
With some upfront research, you can identify what people want to get out of your event, which companies are represented in your attendees, who could be matched together well in breakout sessions or one-on-one speed networking, and more.
If attendees find value in the connections they make at your event, they are likely to find more value in your offerings. Bringing that value starts by knowing who’s coming and what you (and other attendees) can offer.
#2: Make good use of your schedule
Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to put that insight to good use with your event schedule.
Build in opportunities that are ripe for networking. You can create themed breakout sessions that address some of the critical areas attendees need addressed, or around specific factions, like one designed just for VPs of digital.
You can also make more typical aspects of conferences — like coffee breaks — more amenable to networking. Communication platform Sli.do, for example, recommends assigning questions to ask during a coffee break.
#3: Don’t be afraid of ice breakers
Some event organizers may be tempted to write ice breaks off as cheesy; but they work.
Ice breakers get attendees out of their comfort zone and interacting with people they don’t yet know — helping everybody avoid the feeling that they always ‘see the same people at these things.’
You can incorporate them into smaller sessions, and when kept short (with clear instructions) a longer main session could benefit from being broken up by an ice breaker.
#4: Use social media to its fullest potential
Social media connections aren’t just for after the event; they can also be used before and during. Many attendees will already be posting about the conference or trade show, so why not encourage further use of social channels?
“By incentivizing social media participation, attendees are more likely to engage with each other during the event and to encourage further online interactions sparked by follows, likes, shares, and repostings,” suggests Guerra in her Bizzabo post. “This allows event goers to familiarize themselves with fellow attendees.”
Even designating a specific hashtag can help attendees find others in a format that is easier to follow up on later.
#5: Create a mix of opportunities
Networking doesn’t be either “five minutes squeezed in during a coffee break” or “stuffy one-on-one that feels unnatural.”
You can create a mix of different networking opportunities for your attendees to choose from — if they want to take you up on it, great.
SXSW, for example, uses everything from topic-focused Meet Ups to help people find each other in the crowded conference to informal parties to bring like-minded attendees together in an informal way.