So, now you are asking yourself… what the heck is a networking facilitator?
I would have asked the same question 10 years ago.
But modern conference goals and a good bit of research suggest that one of the most impactful parts of your conference may be the choice to add a networking facilitator to your schedule.
Quality speakers and relevant breakout sessions are important – they provide the valuable information and inspiration you want attendees to take away from the event…
But, increasingly, conference attendees are showing up more for the hallways connections and conversations than the opening or closing keynote!
As a meeting planner, are you intentionally building things into your schedule that help your attendees to build and develop the relationships that will become a foundation for profitable collaboration after they leave the conference?
As a meeting organizer, there are many ways you can help to encourage useful connections.
– One idea is to pair up first-time attendees with more experienced community members, and to create a mentor / mentee relationship that offers an immediate relationship.
– Another possibility is to ask a few questions as part of the registration process, and then print a couple of interesting personal facts on the nametags that are provided. Nametags should emphasize first names, hometowns, and business affiliation… but can also include information about the attendees’ favorite candy, or movie, or television show. These are natural conversation starters, and offer a simple and fun opportunity for connection during your event.
– The people at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting have suggested that another way to encourage networking is by posting a copy of the attendee list on the conference website. This allows attendees to identify who’d they might like to connect with at the conference, and also might serve as an enticement to get fence-sitters to attend.
And I have previously put together an article about fun conference ideas to energize your audience.
How a Networking Facilitator is Different
But even with the implementation of those ideas, you may want to add a networking facilitator to your conference to ENSURE that attendees have the opportunity to meet and create profitable connections with others that could become valuable resources.
Your attendees expect you to deliver on the promise of networking opportunities at live events.
Statistics support this…
According to research from 2013, 38% of conference attendees are first timers. They are seeking connection as much as they are seeking information…
In fact, 75% of conference attendees’ time is spent in front of computer screens. That is up to 10 hours each day of digital engagement. These people are starving for personal connections and conversations that will be meaningful and useful.
The reality is that most conference attendees are drowning in content and information – they are most in need of conversations that help them to process and apply it…
So, as you plan your upcoming annual meeting or conference, how will you help your conference attendees to connect early? How will they get the chance to interact and “find their people” – to establish a few helpful bonds that they can lean on during and after the event?
The Role of a Networking Facilitator
When I am invited to contribute to a conference, sometimes it is as a keynote teambuilding speaker to inspire employees to become winning teammates.
But, often, the goal is to have me play the role of a conference connection catalyst.
Events are more engaging, more memorable, and more highly rated when people are given the chance to meet and talk with others.
But meaningful networking doesn’t always happen organically.
A conference facilitator will customize a program of activities based on the layout of the venue and the number of participants.
Here are a couple of networking activities that have become my favorites…
1. Connection Cards “Speed-Dating”
Participants are given a connection card with a question on it, and facilitator will divide the group into pairs using an entertaining method of partnering.
Once in their pairs, they will have three minutes to share three bits of information: their name, their current job / role, and their answer to the question.
This provides connection, interesting insights, and usually a little laughter!
2. Table Quote Conversations
Most effective when attendees are organized at round table of 6 or 8 or 10, this activity requires the facilitator to place a famous / interesting quote at each table.
People at the table will then explain how the quote applies to their life or career somehow.
This activity is best with assigned seating to ensure attendees are beside people that they do not already know well, or could benefit from knowing better…
There are a number of other possible activities (collaboration pairs, face to face, teammate trivia, airport connections, simon sez, etc.), but the key is to provide a structured and effective program and allow attendees to introduce themselves to and interact with others.
Connection is the first step in building profitable relationships.
To make your next meeting or conference more impactful – and to give your attendees even more motivation to return – add a networking facilitator to your program.
People are coming to your event because they want valuable information and even more valuable connections to others in their industry. Hiring a “conference facilitator” or interactive keynote speaker is the key to providing your audience their desired take aways.
Your conference is only as good as the information it shares and the connections it creates!