Connecting At Live Events With Speed Networking
Some meeting planners and event committees are mainly concerned with content. While education is a key reason people attend events, the other main purpose of live conferences is the networking. Some organizers do not prioritize the networking opportunities beyond a welcome reception with an open bar. But if one of the main reasons people attend live meetings is to establish industry contacts and establish connections, we need to honor this throughout the meeting.
The networking matters. Yet left to chance, over a period of time the ability to engage dwindles fast. Thus many groups add a “Speed Networking” session to their agenda on the first day of the conference. Some people roll their eyes at these speed networking programs, but when done well they will fire up the participants and get them engaged in all aspects of the event.
I am a big fan of networking events, as business relationships are the secret weapon for success. Our world is overrun with digital shortcuts. These online and social tools do not really have the same impact as what happens when they really meet more people. A “Speed Networking” program at a conference is a concept that came out of the popular speed dating programs that become popular twenty years ago.
(check out this blog post on “how to network at a conference“)
Get People Talking
Speed networking is a tool to get the participants at your conference to start a conversation. We bring people in a short time period together with others. They will easily with ten or fifteen other attendees. During these meetings they can exchange business cards and talk. This first contact does not mean they are part of each other’s network, but it does give permission to talk more.
Do It Right
Speed networking events can be great, or they can be a huge waste of time. The difference is in the planning and the facilitation of the program. The amount of time you give each coupled group is just enough to learn the basics. If they want to connect later, they can.
Formulating the agenda for the speed networking takes work for the meeting planner. You must know how many people are going to show up, as you need to have the room set up properly. But most important is the person who will lead the session. Too many organizations just pick a volunteer or assign a staff member, which may or may not be the right choice.
Get Your Keynote Speaker To Run The Program
Hire your keynote speaker, if they have an engaging personality, to run the speed networking session. This is a great idea as the audience has seen them present, and will view them as an leader of the event. The Plenary Speaker should always be someone who knows how to set the tone for the event, and if you are choosing a speaker who wants to be a partner with you, then getting them to run an additional setting should be an easy ask.
An experienced event speaker should be able to facilitate a speed networking session. Those that are willing to partner with you should be willing to do something extra (like the speed networking role) without an additional charge if you put it in the agenda near the time of their main talk. At least make the ask. They could be the best answer to running a successful program.
Start The Session With Clear Instructions
The speed networking session should begin with a short explanation of how to network, why to network, and how this form of speed networking will make the whole event better for everyone involved. When I lead these events, I engage my “Conference Catalyst” research and stories as a way to help people buy into why this will be useful if done right. A good facilitator will not just read of the rules, but will get buy in from everyone to be committed to the success of the program.
Hire Thom Singer
If you are hosting an event, and your participants are hungry for better networking, let’s talk. Beyond the Speed Networking Session I can customize a keynote, pre-note, or serve as the master of ceremonies / event host. As a plenary speaker I work hard to set the tone for getting people engaged. For over ten years I have been working as “The Conference Catalyst” and have helped meetings across industry lines develop a culture for better connections. Speed networking facilitation is only part of what I do to make your event all about the people.
Thom Singer is a funny keynote speaker and a professional EmCee. He is the host of the “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast and the author of 12 books. He is the ideal choice if you have a meeting that needs a booster shot in regards to how people network and engage.