Icebreakers that allow attendees to meet in a structured manner, smart use of social media, and conversation-sparking menus can ease stress at events for those who don’t like to mingle.
When it comes to networking at events, one of the most unsettling things for introverts is initiating a conversation with a stranger.
Reticence can also be a cultural issue, said Tina Li, senior events project manager, China at BI Worldwide. And that can especially be true in Asia, Li said.
Introverts and other meeting attendees who shudder at the thought of approaching a stranger are likely to be more relaxed when they recognise a friend or when someone is willing to listen to them. So Li suggests a round-table seating plan to contain networking within a certain range and a set number of people. An icebreaker activity before the event can also help but she advised against cocktails or standing buffets as this setup won’t encourage people to open up and could leave them “stranded.”
Li also encourages attendees to do self-introductions at events, network within certain groups, or make appointments to help conversation flow better.
Petrina Goh, senior business development manager at CWT Meetings & Events, said because many events publish agendas and even attendee lists in advance, that can help people overcome shyness or a reluctance to network.
“Looking through this list helps you determine the people you want to meet,” she said. “You can then contact them via email ahead of the event, explaining why you want to connect. For icebreakers, you can browse LinkedIn feeds to find shared interests which you can use as talking points in person.”
It’s also a good idea to look through presentation and discussion topics on agendas and do some research. Having talking points and questions prepared beforehand will come in handy when the conversation wanes.
Goh added that creative menus can also help attendees break the ice and start a conversation.
With smaller groups, “matching” delegates with buddies can go a long way. Fun icebreakers that allow attendees to meet in a structured manner, such as having them locate a specific person based on pre-determined characteristics, can ease the stress of networking.
Joycelyn Hoh, director, event solutions and design at BCD Meetings & Events, said one way of doing this is via button
badges that highlight individuals’ characteristics, such as “loves a good book.”
Organised “chat zones” that direct individuals to areas where they can interact with others through activities can also prove successful. Hoh gave the example of how a wine connoisseur could bring people to a wine tasting to meet others with similar interests, with the aim of starting a conversation easily.
Another idea is having “dinner angels” — people who walk the floor and make conversation with lone individuals to help them ease into the occasion.
“The key to [boosting networking] at events in Asia (for example) is to ensure there are sufficient interactive activities and icebreakers at various points in a programme to encourage connections and conversations,” Hoh added. “All-time favourites like tasting stations, gaming, or DIY stations go a long way to getting individuals participating and feeling more engaged.”