With the UK meetings and conference industry valued at almost £20 billion, it’s evident that providing people with opportunities to connect face-to-face is what keeps business booming.
Networking is a key factor at almost every event, and for meetings you’re likely to be bringing delegates together to collaborate, exchange knowledge, and ultimately work better together. How can you create networking opportunities that make your meetings truly valuable? We’ve selected six top tips to enhance networking opportunities at your next event.
1. Make registration mandatory
Not just for the sake of your catering order – even if your meeting is completely free to attend, make registration mandatory. There are plenty of ready-to-go platforms on the market that will handle all the nitty gritty of registration for you and the benefits are plentiful.
For networking, encouraging registration enables you to play Cupid before the big day. Capturing relevant information such as industry and job titles will allow you to match delegates based on mutual interests or goals, inspiring meaningful conversations and better networking.
Registration will also help you to track head count and improve the likelihood of delegates attending by making a firm commitment. You could even capture their social media handles as part of the process to send personalised tweets welcoming them, or connect them digitally with other attendees that could be of interest. Which leads us to…
2. Break the ice online
Nobody likes walking into a room full of strangers, no matter how extroverted they might be. Consider providing an online forum for your delegates to introduce themselves prior to the event. There are many low-effort and low-cost ways to do this, from a Twitter chat using a unique hashtag to group conversation, to a private LinkedIn group or a Slack channel to allow delegates to engage on their own terms.
There are several reasons why building a digital community will enhance networking opportunities at your event. First of all, people find it easier to introduce themselves online, and providing an online community will reduce anxiety and smooth the transition into face-to-face interactions. Secondly, it will allow your delegates to create their own target list and plan their own networking objectives. Lastly, it will help delegates lay the foundation for further conversation.
Plus, once the meeting is done and dusted, your online event community can facilitate post-meeting conversations, disseminate key information and make follow up easier. All in all, this adds up to more valuable meetings that satisfy your delegates.
3. Make attendance easy
You’ve encouraged your delegates to pre-register, you’ve broken the ice online and started conversations, everything’s going swimmingly. What else could you possibly do to ensure your event is well-attended and valuable for your delegates?
Choose a venue that will make it as easy as possible for delegates to attend. Accessibility and location both play an important role in just how valuable your event will be in terms of networking opportunities. Your delegates are time poor and they need to make sure that the meetings they attend provide worthwhile networking opportunities without eating up too much of their day.
CentrEd at ExCeL is uniquely placed with an on-site station that connects directly to the London Underground, plus the addition of the Elizabeth line in 2018, whilst being located by the serenity of Royal Victoria Dock.
4. Understand what your delegates need
When planning meetings or events, there is always a purpose. Finding a way to bring together the purpose of your event with the needs and expectations of your delegates will get you on the right track to creating better networking opportunities and successful events.
For example, you may decide to plan a meeting for local start-ups to discuss how you can work together to benefit the local community. Each of your delegates may have a different objective, such as a café wishing to find a new supplier to locally source ingredients.
Understanding their needs will enable you to carefully curate networking opportunities, bringing the right people together to enhance everybody’s experience. This understanding can be gleaned during the online registration process or quickly outlined in an ice breaker at the beginning of your meeting, setting you on the path to hosting more valuable meetings.
5. Take time to chew the fat
Not literally, of course. Food can bring all kinds of wonderful benefits to a meeting, from boosting brain power to invigorating your delegates. Food can also be a talking point for your delegates to bond over through interesting displays or unique ideas. You don’t need a Michelin star to make a yoghurt and granola pot look exciting.
At CentrEd, we have a dedicated restaurant and reception area for delegates to relax and mingle in between sessions, providing further opportunities to network. You may even wish to host a post-meeting drinks reception or an informal breakfast to maximise networking time.
Keep food light, nourishing and easy to eat one-handed – CentrEd’s blend of restaurant seating and lounge areas makes it easier for delegates to ebb and flow between groups of people as they enjoy the stunning waterside views.
6. Shuffle the deck
Whilst we all attend meetings and networking events with the best of intentions, sometimes it’s easier to seek out the familiarity of colleagues and friends. Networking doesn’t always come naturally. For best results, you need to shake things up.
It may be more beneficial to sort your delegates into groups, taking them out of their comfort zone and encouraging new relationships with people they may not ordinarily meet. You could mix them up by industry, job title, or even by randomly assigning numbers to shuffle the deck. You never know what your business opportunities your delegates may uncover!
If you’re really keen to engage your delegates, consider placing ‘anchors’ in the room, i.e. event helpers dedicated to drawing delegates skulking on the outskirts of the room into conversations and introducing them to new people. Nobody puts Baby in the corner.
Meet our team at The BNC Event Show
We know all about the value of face-to-face! That’s why our team will be attending The Buyer’s Networking Club Event Show on 14th February 2018, at The Brewery. Contact us today to arrange an appointment and find out why CentrEd is a better place to meet and learn.