Would it surprise you to learn that 84% of attendees come to events for networking? Why? Because even the smallest meeting is the best place to find new leads, clients and prospects.
Yet, approaching random strangers can be nerve-wracking, especially for work-from-home or introverted employees. However, there is good news. This blog post offers creative solutions that can be fun, engaging, and, most importantly, allow the shyest attendee to walk away with more connections than before they arrived at your event.
Ten Networking Nuggets
Interesting Nametag Information
Instead of the name and company of each attendee, how about their name and:
- Their first car or
- Three words that describe them or
- The city and state they were born in
These are meant to be conversation starters and work well in mid-sized meetings.
Don’t hand attendees their nametags. Instead, ask them to pull one from the basket. Their mission will be to find the person whose name is on it. This works well for a meeting with under fifty individuals and where attendees don’t know each other.
While matching software is available to identify attendees with the same interests, this option doesn’t have to be tech-intensive. The goal is to meet as many individuals as possible in a structured, timed event.
Prep attendees by asking them to bring plenty of business cards and have their 30-second company infomercial down pat.
You will need long tables lined with chairs, clear instructions about who moves and who doesn’t, and a timer. Another thing to remember: If participants are close together, the noise level will rise making it harder to hear each other. Therefore, this works best in a small group or outdoors where participants can spread out.
Set up square or round tables that seat four or eight people. Have stations for one of the following areas. For example, perhaps you choose the number of years attendees have attended the conference. You’d have multiple tables with the following at each: First-timer, one-three years, four to seven years, and eight or more years.
- Job titles (Meeting Planner, Director of Marketing, IT)
- Geographic areas (East Coast, West Coast, or specific states)
- Work as a solopreneur, small company, mid-sized or enterprise organization
Let attendees learn about each other without any additional structure.
Develop a series of questions written on multiple beach balls. Divide up into groups in a circular formation. Toss one ball into each group and ask the person who catches it to answer the question their right index hand is touching. Here are a few to get you started:
- Why are you here?
- Is this your first time attending?
- What is your job title?
- What company do you work for?
- What’s the most significant work challenge you have?
- What are your event expectations?
- Which session are you most excited about?
- Have you been to this destination before?
- What’s your favorite place to travel?
- What was the last movie you saw?
Once answered, they throw the ball to someone else.
This type of activity can be completed with an app, without one, or delivered as a hybrid offering. The important thing is each attendee completes various tasks, either independently or on a team, receives points for their efforts, and the team that completes the most tasks wins a prize.
Attendees are to take selfies doing the following:
- Visit three trade show booths
- Share a photo of you and your team members on social media that includes the event hashtag
- Find someone that has the same job title
- Record an Instagram story about the great time you’re having at the conference
- Do something fun
- Try a signature cocktail
- Eat at one of the many restaurants in the area
- Find something yellow
- Find something that starts with the letter W
If you want to use a mobile app, you might check out these 14 scavenger apps.
Customize a bingo card so attendees have exciting tidbits in each square. Ask the person who fulfills the requirement to provide their signature in that square. The first person to get Bingo wins. Here are a few ideas:
- Owns their business
- Worked for the same company for 10+ years
- Has traveled to another country
- Has used new technology at a meeting
- Has read a business book in the last year
- Subscribes to Netflix
- Can play a musical instrument
- Has served in the military
- Attended this conference three years in a row
Business Card Collection Contest
Remind attendees before they arrive and throughout your conference to collect as many business cards as possible. The individual who holds the most cards at the end of your program wins a nice gift basket.
When individuals sit at their tables, each place setting will have a small container of M&Ms. The emcee will ask each person to sort them by colors on their place setting, not eat them. Once completed, everyone goes around the table and shares the following based on the colors on their plate:
- Red: Most embarrassing moment
- Green: Favorite sports team
- Yellow: Favorite movie
- Brown: Place they’d like to travel
- Orange: Hobby
- Blue: Whatever they’d like to share
Take advantage of event engagement rentals as a fun way to include gamification or photo booths into your conference. Small groups will gather around each gaming kiosk or snap their photos with their new found friends!
Including one or more of these ideas will hopefully make attendees feel connected and welcome into your event. Be sure to collect feedback from attendees at the end of the meeting to see what worked and what didn’t.
If you only tried one of the above ideas, perhaps try a different one at your next gathering. Keep testing until you find the ones attendees love doing!
De-de Mulligan is the President and Chief Content Strategist for Mulligan Management Group. As a former meeting planner who has received Ohio MPI’s Planner of the Year award twice, she brings a unique perspective to these blog posts. You can find her on Twitter @DedeMulligan.