Live event networking facilitators Shawna Suckow and Susan RoAne offered Meetings Focus ideas for intentional networking design at live events:
- Encourage an atmosphere whereby attendees want to help someone do better. Consider opening sessions that have attendees paired up using open-ended ice breaker questions that start with the who, what, when, how, why and tell me, etc.—responses that give clues for how they could be helpful to each other. Or, offer interactive exercises that encourage sharing of best practices, solutions and ideas.
- Kick off your conference with a session that has people actively meeting one another, not passively listening to a keynote. The keynote can come later. Consider mandating a "no phone" zone for this time!
- Split people into groups (as different generations or home base regions) by any criteria, and have them meet with others like them in different sections of a large room. The point is not how you divide people, but that they feel comfortable meeting others with whom they share something in common.
- Give the groups a topic to discuss, such as why they came to the conference. Then have them walk across the room and meet someone who’s not like them and give them a new question to discuss. It's up to the facilitator to keep conversations going so the energy level stays high by giving the groups topics to discuss, changing groups, etc.
- Post topics on breakfast tables. People are usually tired, quiet and not too talkative this time of day. Topics can be serious or fun; anything that wakes up your attendees and encourages connecting. Categories examples could be chocolate lovers, grandparents or book lovers. Or maybe focus on the demographics of the group, such as Social Media, Sales Talk, Growing Your Business, etc.