After studying a lot of professional conferences, it’s clear to me what separates a thriving event from one on life support. For multi-day conferences, a growing number of attendees register and return because of who else will be there. It’s no longer enough to just attract the movers and shakers to provide social proof of networking value. Moving forward, we’ll need to get much more sophisticated and intentional in our conference design to deliver high-value networking. Here’s what you need to consider:
1. Go beyond logistics. There are plenty of networking initiatives that utilize physical spaces like lounges and hallway nooks, and involve activities like parties, parlor games, and first-timer orientations. You should consider connection accelerators like social media, mobile apps, gamification, and attendee appointments as well. But while these can support your strategy, on their own they won’t help you grow the tribe experience.
2. Make networking value is the cornerstone of your event. The commitment to delivering high networking value needs to be identified as a top priority by your leadership. It should be clearly stated as a main purpose of your conference or annual meeting, and that message needs to go beyond words. That means that all staff and volunteer leadership on site at the event should take personal ownership for making as many attendees as possible feel like they are part of the tribe. The staff and volunteers need to be present and visible — not in board or committee meetings, not in a staff office, but in the session rooms and welcoming attendees and guests as they enter general sessions and social functions.
3. Recognize the two main types of networkers: delivery-driven and innovator-driven.
Most attendees fall into the delivery-driven category, and want to:
»Connect with like-minded individuals.
»Connect with people who have the same or higher power, influence, and access to resources
»Promote their company, promote themselves, and continue to climb up the career ladder.
Innovation-driven attendees network differently. They want to:
»Connect with different-minded people.
»Encounter new and surprising information and perspectives.
» Test out a few ideas “in process” and gain valuable insight to perfect them before they launch them themselves.
Savvy conference organizers will help educate their community on the value of both of these networking types.