Coffee or networking?

In this blogpost, I want to share with you a way you can incorporate a facilitated networking session in your next event.

Networking can be a daunting thing – at least for the more introvert people among us. Not everybody like walking up to a stranger asking ’personal’ questions. But if the purpose of your event is networking, you can still engage all types of attendees in a networking session. The key is to facilitate it.

Facilitating a network session means not sending your attendees out for a coffee break – breaks are not networking sessions! Sure, many of your guests will talk to other people during the break, but that does not equal formal networking and so does not support the purpose of your event.

Instead, you design your event with various opportunities for the delegates to mingle and meet. One idea could be to ask everybody to stand up and mingle for 5 minutes and go say Hello to somebody they do not already know. When everybody does it, it takes the awkwardness out of the situation (“We are all in the same boat”), and everybody has to talk to somebody they do not know as opposed to the break where people who already know each other usually talk over coffee.

Another idea takes a little more time. First of all, you design the name tags so that all attendees can write two things on it: 1 = Something they can help other attendees with, and 2 = something they need help with themselves. When you give out the name tags you ask the attendee to fill in the questions as a conversation starter. It might be input like “I know the best lawyer in xx field” or “I need contacts at yy company”…or whatever they feel like.

Then for the networking session all attendees are asked to mingle and check out the other’s name tags, or – if the group is not too big – you can take a short presentation round where everybody take turns telling their name, what they can help with, and what they need.

If you make this a mingling session only, you need at least 30 minutes to do it as you need to make sure everybody has had the chance to meet a good number of people.

You could also create the name tags as an ice breaker by having the attendees write an accomplishment they are proud of or a question they would like to have answered during the conference.

Just remember to initiate every single networking session with an explanation of the purpose of the task they are given. Otherwise, some people might find it silly, unnerving, or plain stupid. And once the session has started, make sure to have a facilitator who watches out for those who end up alone in the corner. We want the session to be a positive experience for all.

Do you facilitate your networking sessions?

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