When attendees register for a conference, they are looking for two key tangible benefits: educational insights and new business contacts. While meeting professionals are accustomed to providing CE offerings, the second piece of the equation comes with plenty of challenging questions. How can you break the cycle of year-after-year attendees gravitating toward the same clique of colleagues? What can you do to help introverted attendees who are struggling to find opportunities to connect with others? Is the program schedule too packed to deliver the right balance of participating in sessions with meeting new potential business partners?
As you look ahead to your next conference, keep these four lessons in mind to deliver more valuable networking opportunities for your attendees.
1) Successful speed dating requires more time.
The term “speed dating” is not as simple as it sounds. Many attendees may be accustomed to the traditional sit-down-at-table-for-10-minutes approach to facilitating introductions, but Stéphane Martel, Founder of Montréal-based Yulism, says that speed dating relies on the information a meeting professional can gather before those dates happen on-site.
“If you want to maximize networking opportunities, you have to help attendees prepare before coming to the conference,” Martel says.
“It’s important to find the objective of the attendee long before they arrive,” Martel adds. “Are they coming for inspiration or for career advancement? What is it that motivates their participation?”
Martel uses a concierge system to offer one-on-one service for each attendee. Four to six weeks before the event begins, the concierge interacts with each attendee to learn about their needs and goals.
2) It’s not all about business.
In addition to offering a personalized concierge, Martel highlights the importance of gathering information outside the realm of an attendee’s title and responsibilities at work. For example, Martel recalls an attendee who worked as a Vice President of Marketing at a retail company in New York. In her pre-conference profile, she didn’t just list potential needs for her business life. She offered to teach yoga on-site.
“While her offer had nothing to do with her job, she was able to develop new business relationships from it,” Martel says. “By tapping into her personal skills, she made the conference more meaningful for herself and her fellow attendees.”
3) Create a space that will create connections.
Whether attendees are coming together in a massive convention center or a smaller hotel conference area, meeting professionals must answer one question during site visits: can you design the environment to make networking feel natural?
“If you really want to make sure your attendees will feel comfortable talking to each other, you need to address any potential space issues,” Martel says.
For example, are there certain types of furniture arrangements that might make attendees feel more comfortable? One of the most simple ways to encourage introductions is to leverage today’s basic attendee need: electricity.
“Areas with ample access to power outlets are important,” Amy Wunderlich, Interior Designer and Senior Associate, Populous, said in a recent interview with PCMA. “A communal table approach may encourage interaction while catching up on work back home or while simply charging devices.”
4) Saying hello doesn’t have to wait until happy hour.
Many conferences have pre-scheduled “networking receptions.” They begin around 7:00 PM, and they offer attendees a chance to relax after a full day of learning. While these can add to the celebratory spirit of a conference, networking does not have to wait until the sun goes down and the bar opens. For example, at C2 in Montréal, attendees can participate in “Brain Dates” throughout the day. Using technology from E-180, attendees can arrange to meet with attendees who share similar interests. If they want to skip educational sessions to have conversations instead, they can. It’s a refreshing approach that relinquishes control and gives attendees the ability to do exactly what they feel is best for their time.
Interested in learning more about how C2’s approach to networking might inspire change at your conference? Check out PCMA’s full feature on how the business conference continues to reinvent its approach to facilitating introductions between attendees.
This educational article was brought to you by Tourisme Montréal. Tourisme Montréal brings a special brand of savoir-faire to the table, with streamlined solutions and a staff of experienced managers at its Montréal office as well as its satellite offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Paris.
Moreover, once a meeting is confirmed in Montréal, the Convention Services team is there to accompany planners every step of the way—from the first site visit until the departure of the last delegate—and provides a wide range of attendance-building tools and helpful advice to ensure the event is a success. As part of “Team Montréal”, a coalition of the city’s convention and meeting industry leaders, Tourisme Montréal is dedicated to making planners’ Montréal experience rewarding, efficient and successful.
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