If you ask a typical conference participant to describe a networking event, her or she will most likely describe a scene where everyone awkwardly looks at oversized name badges while using one hand for introductions and the other for clutching a cocktail. If you ask a participant from C2 Montréal to describe a networking experience, the answer will be very different. For example, you may hear about the feeling of fear, trying to express an idea to new people while hanging in a net 18 feet above the ground. Other participants might discuss spending time in the conference’s Cloud of Fog, a workshop designed to prevent people from seeing each other in order to highlight the influence of appearances in human interactions.
“We want to create an unexpected context for our participants,” Antoine Roy-Larouche, Director — Collaborative Experiences, C2 Montréal, says. “By putting people in new scenarios we believe we can make it easier to get to know people sitting next to each other.”
Going Out For Brain Dates
Every step of the conference experience does not involve feeling the blur of fog or conquering a fear of heights, though. Roy-Larouche and the C2 team have partnered with Montréal-based education company E-180 to offer a new take on speed networking at conferences. They’re called Brain Dates. Through C2’s web app called HUB and an algorithm that helps suggest potential “dates”, C2 attendees are able to schedule one-on-one meetings with like-minded colleagues who are also at the conference. It’s clear the audience is hungry for the connections, too. In 2015, C2 participants scheduled more than 1,345 Brain Dates, twice the number from the previous year.
Giving Attendees What They Want: Control
The tried-and-true post-program happy hours or 15-minute, in-between-session breaks may offer some opportunities for attendees to meet new faces, but these traditional approaches can often face serious issues in attempts to facilitate new introductions. With that in mind, C2 has evolved its program to embrace a refreshing approach that gives attendees more control over the experience.
“In our first year, we were a one-track event,” Roy-Larouche says. “Our goal was to have the whole community be part of the same process. We quickly realized that this wasn’t possible.”
“Since the second year of the event, we have been offering talks and workshops at the same time as networking opportunities,” Roy-Larouche adds. “We have so much happening at the same time, and we let attendees meet other people when it works best for their schedules. Our on-site concierges are available so participants can tailor their entire C2 journey.”
“Letting our participants manage their time and including unique networking opportunities really enhances the overall conference experience,” Roy-Larouche adds.
Helping Introverts Get In On The Action
So what does C2’s approach do for those in the audience who might be a bit intimidated by the thought of networking in the first place? For introverts, stepping into a room with thousands of unfamiliar faces can feel very overwhelming. At C2, though, Roy-Larouche and his team have developed a strategy to help everyone overcome feelings of shyness. From funny icebreaker cards for more relaxed introductions to spinning an oversized ferris wheel that eliminates awkward ends to conversations, the C2 approach makes networking truly work for everyone in the room.
“Being in this environment inspired me to reinvent the way I networked,” Laurie Davis, a self-described introvert writes in a recent Huffington Post feature on her experience at C2. “I shifted some of my usual habits and got creative with connecting. The result was network changing.”
Attendees like Davis can expect even more from the conference in 2016. As C2 prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary, the team continues to live up to its motto: A Business Conference, Only Different.
“As each year goes by, we continue to creatively challenge ourselves to reinvent the overall networking experience” Roy-Larouche says. “In doing so, participants are exposed to a variety of opportunities. For us, it’s all about creating meaningful and impactful connections.
Interested in learning more about the philosophy behind C2? Click here for a word from the conference’s curator.