Every meeting planner knows that powerful networking can instantly increase an event’s value. But more often than not, they feel like Grace who was planning an association’s annual conference.
She told me “We need to do a better job with networking. That’s what people said they want more of and I’m not sure how.”
It’s a frustration I hear again and again. You include networking time into your agenda, but people complain they didn’t make valuable connections.
Truth is, it’s the attendee’s fault. You created the opportunity, but their reptilian brain kicks in. They don’t introduce themselves because the whole networking process feels awkward, stupid or speechless.
The solution: Add a structured, facilitated experience that takes the work out of networking and makes it easy, powerful and fun. A facilitated networking session instantly increases your event’s value and you are a superhero!
Determine where a structured, facilitated networking session best fits into your event flow. Is it the Beginning? Middle? End?
A networking session near the beginning taps into people’s curiosity to discover who is in the room and can set the stage to keep meeting new people throughout the event. A networking session part way though the event is a great strategy when the group needs an energy boost, like after a meal or day 2 of a 3 day event. And a facilitated, powerful networking session at the end can be a fun way to wrap things up.
Decide how much time
Meeting just one new person doesn’t cut it. Attendees need to have a 5-7 minute conversation with at least 3 new people for networking to be valuable. That’s why you need at least 45 minutes for a structured networking experience. Sixty minutes is even better. With additional time you can add a short networking how-to, additional conversation rounds, and a group debrief of what happened.
Pick an experienced facilitator
The magic of structured networking is that the facilitator gives everyone the path and the permission to meet one another. This immediately takes air out of the awkward balloon.
It’s important to select someone who has facilitation experience. Hire a professional facilitator or utilize the skills of a keynote speaker, trainer or consultant who is already presenting at your event.
The most effective facilitator sets a positive tone by reminding everyone of the importance and power of meeting new people, provides how-to networking tips, and creates a process with at least 3 conversation rounds.
A big bonus is when there is time for the facilitator to bring the networking session to a close by having a few individuals share something interesting or unique about a person they met and how they felt about the experience.
Boring events take too much time, cost too much money, and fall too short in creating real impact. Using hard-earned insights, light-hearted humor, and creativity, Mary Foley partners with meeting planners to create experiences professional women crave. Wearing a red cape helps. For more, go to maryfoley.com.