“Networking is the no. 1 unwritten rule of success in business.”
– Sallie Krawcheck
Networking is one of the best catalysts of professional development. It is a great way to collect valuable business contacts and get ahead. From knowledge expansion to business contracts, the people you know in the industry truly matters.
Understanding these benefits that networking provides, professionals now look for platforms to network. And what better way to network than events?
Events are the perfect combination of a social and professional setting that you need to meet relevant colleagues in your field and establish meaningful business relations. A lot of events organized these days are conducted solely around the purpose, i.e. networking events.
Apart from this, planners who manage professional events such as conferences, seminars, tradeshows, etc. have gradually begun to prioritize the element of networking in their events, finding new ways to help their attendees connect.
“Three-fourths of all respondents cite networking opportunities as a key factor in their decisions on whether to attend. It is most valued by Gen Y millennial, at 84 percent.”
As event planners began to recognize the potential of events in facilitating networking, the process has evolved immensely. In the current scenario, there exists a range of formats that are centred on structured and unstructured networking at events.
Here are some of the top Event Networking formats:
1. Ice Breakers:
One of the oldest and most common formats of networking, ice-breakers are special sessions where planners try to help attendees break the ice and get to know their fellow attendees better.
These activities are often gamified to make it more fun and interesting. Think 20 questions; draw your partner and the good old scavenger hunt. The purpose here is to drive that initial interaction among people belonging to different facets of the industry that your event caters to.
Ice-breakers are an affordable way to facilitate networking at any event. It doesn’t take much to conduct a good session if planned well.
2. Lunch Sessions
Lunch break is the best time to connect with colleagues and build contacts. It’s an unstructured networking format preferred by a lot of professionals. Many events have a set seating plan whereby planners seat relevant attendees together while having separate arrangements for VIPs and Delegates.
Most times, lunch sessions work best for extrovert professionals who are confident in terms of approaching their colleagues and starting up a conversation without hesitating. Planners must always keep this in mind while coming up with a networking plan for lunchtime.
Meet-ups have emerged as a networking format whereby professionals can gather and have a discussion in a somewhat informal setting. A gathering of sorts, it is meant for small groups of people to meet and network with their fellow professionals.
Meet-ups have recently gained popularity in corporate events as well. Organizers set aside a certain time period for meet-up sessions for their attendees and allocate a space for the same.
The possibilities are endless. Considering the example of the GES 2017 event, meet-ups were facilitated for attendees living in the same hotel as well as for professionals belonging to the same sector, say, healthcare. This format is great for attendees to meet a lot of people they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with.
4. Speed Networking
As networking is gaining priority in events, planners are coming up with new and creative formats to help attendees connect. Speed networking is one such example. Speed networking can be defined as “A meeting format designed to accelerate business contacts.”
How exactly does this format work? Professionals have a set list of meetings within a day with select few attendees. They can interact and exchange contact information if the contact seems relevant.
Usually, there are three main types of speed networking i.e.
– Round Robin where attendees are paired up randomly and sequentially.
– Station-based where specific attendees have been assigned set list of attendees they’re supposed to meet.
– Group-based where meetings are set with a pre-selected group of attendees
Planners can go about this any way they wish.
Roundtables have been quite the traditional networking format. This format is especially preferable in a setting where attendees would like to network within a group while sharing ideas and opinions on a set topic.
Roundtables are meant to drive discussions among a group of individuals. Attendees switch from table to table at random and discuss set topics till the end where they’ll be seated with fellow attendees that they’ve already had a discussion with.
The effectiveness of this format is often decided by the quality of discussion apart from individual attendee participation.
6. One-on-One Meetings
One-on-one meetings have been every professional’s go to for closing in on a deal. Meetings are one of the most effective forms of networking. Meeting events have gained a lot of importance recently with a range of meeting associations being established across the globe.
With one-on-one meetings, attendees get a chance to properly interact with prospects, sharing knowledge and insights while potentially establishing a long-lasting valuable contact. The meeting’s format of networking is definitely here to stay.
Networking formats: Technological Transformation
Technology has brought about a revolution that has transformed every aspect of event planning. How events were planned, executed and managed has now been redefined.
Activities like registrations and ticketing have witnessed a shift to the online platform. Event websites and apps have now become mainstream. Networking is no stranger to this technological transformation.
From networking tools, software to high-tech concepts of an alternate reality, networking is fast evolving.
The Emergence of Event Networking Tools:
A plethora of digital tools has emerged in the market, that facilitate these networking formats, optimizing them. Take gamification, for example. From 20 questions to online quizzes, simple ice-breaking activities have now been integrated with tools like social walls and event apps.
With tech-tools such as beacons, wearable tech, smart badges, etc. lunch time networking is now much easier. Poken, for e.g., is a tool that helps attendees exchange information simply through a digital ‘handshake.’
Consider VR. Virtual reality is a concept that many event professionals have adopted in implementing an attendee networking plan for their events. For instance, planners can include a VR gaming activity as an icebreaker. Planners have also experimented with AI with tools like chatbots and virtual assistants to help attendees network better.
Even the information being exchanged now is a testament to this Internet of Things era. Social media handles have in a way become the new business cards. Contact information exchanged between attendees has changed from a mailing address and a phone number to email and social media Ids. It’s easier to connect that way.
Connect Attendees the New Way Using Networking Software
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Technology in its true sense looks for a way to better things. With networking being a necessity for professional growth, apart from networking tools, many software products were introduced in the market that facilitated multiple types of event networking.
“At Events with a social or networking element, I think we’ll see an increase in organisations using the services of a professional introducer to ensure that attendees meet people who are relevant to them. We’ll see a corresponding decrease in the number of ‘self-service’ networking events where attendees are expected to get on with it without assistance.”
Talking about formats such as Speed networking, there are few tools in the market that have truly transformed and optimized the process through advanced technology. One such example is the Speed Networking software.
An advanced matchmaking tool, Speed Networking is software that emphasizes upon on tech-driven networking. Attendees are provided a survey beforehand that contains multiple questions structured around the kind of people they would like to network with.
The software matches attendees and helps them set up meetings with relevant professionals. The system caters to multiple event types including round-tables along with targeted networking such as peer-peer, business-customer and even mentor-mentee.
This can tailor the attendee networking experience as per requirements and save a lot of time and effort for both, the organizer as well as the attendee.
With events transforming into a networking platform, many event tech providers have now delved into integrating the networking aspect of an event within basic tools such as an event website or an app.
Hubilo, for e.g. provides a web-based networking platform that can also be integrated with an event app as a separate feature. A social networking platform for events, attendees can post pictures, videos or conduct discussions and polls apart from connecting with their fellow attendees via private chat or meetings.
The Future of Networking Formats
With technology making its way into event networking, professionals are often stuck in a dilemma of balancing the digital and the real. High-tech vs. Low-tech networking techniques, virtual vs. Face to face, the debates are never-ending.
When it comes to planning and execution of the networking aspect of one’s event plan, it is the end goal that matters. The formats and technologies of networking that work best towards the accomplishment of the end goal are bound to stay.
The future of networking though, in one way or the other will be driven by technology, one that compliments the traditional formats of networking.
A little touch of tech can go a long way in coming up with unconventional ideas to connect attendees, ones that can truly transform the entire event experience.