We’ve looked at this topic before in a previous article, that you should absolutely read, about the trials and tribulations of networking for and at events. Therefore – joy! It’s time to revisit this theme once again because one article is never really enough is it? Here’s more and more and more ways to think about networking at your events.
Break It Down
In the aforementioned last article on this subject we spent some time on the uses and abuses of social media. If there’s one other thing we can learn from the proliferation of social media in this age it is that despite (or perhaps because of) what is an abundance of available information, the human tribal instinct is fully on show. There is a lot of evidence that the internet is a hotbed of confirmation bias – where users seek out information that already agrees with their own views and opinions.
So, you’ll legitimately ask, what has that got to do with the topic we have at hand? Simply put, people tend to gravitate towards people who are like them. This is not to imply that they are racist or discriminatory in any way, of course, but just that it’s human nature to form cliques. What needs to be done, therefore, is to break those cliques up. The existence of these little groups is problematic to you as an organizer as it means attendees at your event who are from minority groups (in whatever form) can quickly find themselves excluded. This, it goes without saying, is detrimental to any attempts at facilitating networking.
So break them up – an idea that is far easier said then done. One possible way, though, is to have activities in much smaller groups and try as far as possible to distribute people equally. Take into consideration their backgrounds, which companies or organizations they are representing and make sure that in any small-group setting there isn’t a predominance of one group over another.
This may seem like a challenging task – and of course you’d be right in thinking that. This is where you can put social media to positive use. Use the many available analytic tools or apps to find out more about the demographics of your attendees and let this enable you to create a networking arrangement worthy of everyone’s time.
As the more observant of you will realize, humans aren’t exactly a homogenous bunch. Especially when we think of the minefield that is networking with strangers at events, those who are naturally more introverted or averse to taking the initiative in social situations may be at a massive disadvantage. One of your jobs as an event organizer is to minimize these awkward situations as much as possible.
One of these ways is by making sure that the networking sessions are fun. Now, that might be an extremely subjective term. I do believe, however, that it is possible, with good facilitators and well-considered activities, for a vast majority of participants to fill more at less at ease. Take the time and effort to source out agents who are capable of doing this job well and let them take the lead. Also, go the extra mile to make sure that these activities are ones that fit either the demographic that is anticipated at your event or that are consistent with the aims that you wish to achieve.
Take It Outside
Of course, what screams “fun!” more than an enforced attempt at enjoyment during work hours? Everything else – that’s what. If it is possible and within your budget to do so, schedule for networking sessions and events to be outside of the main itself – preferably in much more relaxed circumstances and attendees and guests can afford to let their hair down a little.
As mentioned earlier, these activities may or may not be related to the nature of the main events in terms of theme, structure, content or intent, and that really isn’t the point. The fact is, simply having networking sessions as part of the main events places pressure on participants and these may not produce the full desired effects for a variety of reasons. Instead, decontextualize it and try as far as possible to make these activities separate from “work”. This will allow you and your attendees to reap the rewards of more relaxed networking.
That’s It (For Now)
So we’ve taken that “n” word just a little bit further and this probably isn’t the last time we will take on this topic. Hopefully, these additional ideas will help you further think about networking within and for your event and be something more than just gratuitous and perfunctory. That way, everybody wins.