How to Prepare Attendees for In-Person Networking Again
It’s a shift that many event organizers have felt in their bones; in-person events are popping up everywhere. Some can’t fathom a life without sweatpants, while others rush to put on a tie for the first time in two years. No matter how you feel about the comeback of in-person events, they are returning in full force, and the event industry must, once again, adapt accordingly.
There are pros and cons to each type of event. Virtual events often appeal to homebodies, while in-person events might be more alluring to extroverts. No one fits perfectly into any box, and event planners need to adjust appropriately.
Networking happens at any type of event, regardless of whether or not it appears on the agenda. Organizing like-minded people within a structured environment is truly an art. Facilitating new connections can boost someone’s career, birth a new friendship, or simply strike up a memorable interaction. All your attendees need is for you to take them from small talk to connected conversation. Follow along for some surefire tips and tricks for bringing people together and helping them to feel prepared.
It’s safe to say that we have all learned how to acclimate our lifestyles to unexpected events. Connecting virtually in the event space revolutionized many markets, creating previously inconceivable solutions. Now that we return to in-person, how do event organizers forge ahead to achieve their goals?
Necessity is the mother of invention, and this applies to all aspects of an event, virtual and in-person. Networking is one of these crucial event aspects.
While more is physically required of participants when attending an event in person, this type has its own set of perks. In-person event atmospheres lend themselves to a more visceral ‘vibe’ creation and allow participants to use their body language to communicate.
Hiring a live band to play background music doesn’t contain all of the "techy" steps of live streaming, and curating a decadent table-length charcuterie doesn't have quite the same zing when all the meats and cheeses are delivered with Uber Eats. Creating energy that emanates your brand will set the tone for your attendees to feel empowered while networking in person.
Networking in person might be an optional breakfast meet and greet or a team-based happy hour. These different settings are a great way for the event organizers to customize welcoming incubators for new connections to grow.
At this point, there aren’t many people working in events who haven’t attended an event via a virtual conference platform. It goes beyond the Zoom meetings we’re familiar with for several reasons. The navigation mimics an in-person event format, there is robust customization, and business networking becomes screen to screen instead of face-to-face meetings. The pros of networking virtually are many. Attendees can engage from their favorite chair in the safety of a familiar space and don’t have to worry about how their breath smells or stress about getting someone’s contact information immediately without trying to remember their name for a LinkedIn search later. Comfort levels are at a peak high in this scenario.
Virtual event platforms had to get creative on how to encourage networking at events. Remote networking might look like a traditional virtual room where everyone can share their microphone and video. It might be more like speed dating, where participants are matched at random and given a timer for themed discussion. A virtual networking roulette, if you will. The great thing about this environment is that the possibilities are endless. Attendees can talk in a private chat, participate in a roundtable discussion, or enter a more casual ‘room’ to engage more organically.
There is nothing quite like the rhythmic cadence that can develop with face-to-face meetings. Networking and relationship-building are crucial skills to reengage within the in-person event industry. Over the past two years, we gained valuable resources to reapply to the in-person event world for optimum community building.
Utilizing this shift and instructing attendees on how to network in person again is the next step forward for event organizers. Your attendees will be shocked at how empowered they feel to step back in–literally.
It’s time to dust off your non-stretchy pants because things are about to get real. Read below for the greatest hits of in-person event preparation.
Knowledge is power, and you want all of your attendees to feel empowered with the information needed to face their in-person event comeback. Pre-event is a great time to utilize an in-person event platform to help your audience know what to expect.
In-person event platforms can help you with all the minute details of planning an event in a physical space. Some platforms provide event landing pages, ticketing services, badge printing, and confirmation emails. Their function is to minimize chaos pre-event and become your third arm during the event. They can also provide helpful attendee data post-event.
Those confirmation emails will be your attendee’s best friend on the day of the event. Ensure your audience has all the event information in the body of the email, including the event date, time, location, and ticket type (if applicable). Including this pertinent information on your landing page is also a must, along with all of your speaker and session information! These details plant seeds of excitement, prompting attendees to possibly share them with their community!
When networking in person, your attendees need to know what they want from your event. Do they want to attend a specific session that showcases a speaker specializing in their work field? Do they want to participate in a meet and greet to obtain a particular number of business cards? These are good questions to ask themselves before the event.
LinkedIn has become a robust and valuable tool for building a professional network over the years and profile customization matters. Advise your attendees to have an updated professional photo and current job information.
If applicable, this also applies to building a social media network on other platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Ensure that profile photos across all platforms are updated and, most importantly, look like their actual face.
Attendee LinkedIn profiles must be easy to digest. They don’t want to overwhelm potential connections with too much information. Tell your audience to stick to the basics and focus on their most recent professional accomplishments.
When networking in person, participants need to be aware of time. A true elevator pitch is 20-30 seconds, the average time one spends on an elevator ride.
Networking within an event is expected or scheduled most of the time, which reduces the ‘cold call’ feeling of approaching someone off the cuff. Even still, leading with a fun fact about themselves and closing with a concise explanation of their services is the best method. Hook them with an exciting detail pertinent to their line of work, and then reel them in with a clear business definition.
Most people would love to begin a cold introduction with a topic that doesn’t involve the weather. Here are a few ideas for how to network with opening lines that don’t feel too forced:
If participating in a happy hour, you can start organically over something you are both eating at the moment. “Looks like we got the same cocktail (or mocktail/appetizer); I think it tastes _____. What do you think?”
For networking in person with someone you may know through an acquaintance, a good opening line could be, “I think we both know ______, aren’t they the best at _____?” Here, a good practice is to point out an attribute or skill that this shared contact is known for—no deep cuts.
Those suggestions are generalized, so it is essential that event organizers set their participants up for success. Include other conversation starter options that pertain to the theme of your event or specific session.
The event industry doesn’t talk about body language enough. Your attendees need to practice awareness around the vibes they are giving off physically, especially during an event. It sounds simple, but asking 'what is my face doing?' is very essential.
The most critical element of body language when engaging is eye contact. It’s easy to tell from someone’s facial expressions if they aren’t paying attention, and nothing will ruin an exchange faster than appearing uninterested.
Teach your attendees how to position themselves physically. Standing is best when attempting to strike up a conversation with a new contact. Opening their stance to the person or people they want to engage with without seeming pushy will set your attendees up for success.
You want your attendees to establish connections in person that feel genuine. Anything that feels too slick or contrived will ultimately fail the litmus test for a good business relationship. Show your attendees how to prepare for a networking event by highlighting the importance of being true to themselves.
The first thing people notice about new acquaintances is what they are wearing. Even if your event calls for formal attire, encourage your attendees to wear something that showcases their personal style. Maybe they want to stand out with a signature scarf or dazzling pair of shoes that become a great conversation starter for the evening. Inspire them to arrive as their unique and best selves.
Another tip for how to network while feeling true to one’s personality is by emphasizing personal backgrounds. Remind your attendees not to be shy about their upbringing and educational facts pertinent to the conversation. Connecting over a shared childhood experience is the best way to have a good flow of dialogue.
Depending on the length of your event, building a relationship with a new contact goes beyond the initial introduction in person. Instruct your attendees on the basics of following up after establishing personal connections.
Short-term memory can contain around seven items at a time. If an attendee meets more than seven people and learns information about them, the odds aren’t good that they will remember every detail. This fact presents a good argument for focusing on engaging different parts of the brain.
Event organizers can teach attendees how to prepare for a networking event by scheduling different networking opportunities. A speed-dating style with designated, pre-assigned questions is an excellent way to relax attendees and expand their thought processes. Even writing their answers down on a piece of paper will help attendees remember interactions that have the possibility of becoming relationships.
Face the facts; we’ve all been a little out of whack since 2020, so reentering the in-person world will require some humility. We’ve also only attended events while social distancing, so getting closer than six feet apart again might be daunting for some people.
Instill confidence in your attendees by reminding them that we are all in this together. In-person events can inject new life into your attendees’ interactions, and if they remain flexible to gentle suggestions, they set themselves up for success.
Maintaining relationships is the final networking ingredient. You can have the most successful and connected conversation, but it will evaporate into thin air if you don’t follow through.
Social media and LinkedIn are beneficial tools for relationship maintenance. If you only remember someone’s name but can’t remember their title, you can look up their profile on LinkedIn for an immediate answer.
Networking on social media takes your in-person interaction to the next level. Photos are often taken at events and tagged with everyone for reference, which benefits all parties involved. After getting the information you need, you can follow up with a short email (or direct message) detailing your conversation at the event and how you would like to collaborate further.
Creating a warm and welcoming environment will help guarantee success at your next in-person event. There is no substitute for face-to-face conversation; it engages more sense memories within the brain.
Providing tools through communication with your attendees will help everyone get back into the in-person game. It was all we knew for a while, and there’s no reason we can’t successfully do it again.
Event platforms elevate regular in-person networking. With the ability to check in your attendees using a staff mobile app, the check-in process can be simplified by scanning a QR code.
Another valuable function of an event platform for networking in person is the ability to connect within the app. Attendees can often utilize a chat function, view a list of attendees, or even direct message an attendee connection within the app.
As mentioned before, keeping the next steps in mind is very important for your attendees. Setting goals, staying flexible, and following through will lead them to success!
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