A Novel Icebreaker Makes Networking Less Awkward

One conference made networking easier by letting participants make a simple choice — what coffee cup to use.

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

Invite attendees to take their pick of color-coded coffee cups custom-printed with a one-word topic to help spark conversation with other like-minded attendees.

Back in 2018, the Nordic Business Forum, a conference that brings together more than 7,500 attendees to focus on leadership and business, found a “why didn’t I think of that?” way to make networking easier — offering color-coded coffee cups printed with a topic to help spark conversation between like-minded attendees.

conversation cups

Nordic Business Forum used the conversation cups at its 2018 conference.

“When having coffee you will get to pick one of six different cups and by doing so tell others what you are interested in,” said Hans-Peter Siefen, cofounder of Nordic Business Group, of their networking conversation-starter in a Twitter post. Topics included innovation, strategy, marketing and sales, and artificial intelligence. But as many joked in a recent Twitter thread, not everyone is excited about forced socialization again. “I would simply not drink coffee,” said one respondent; “Is there a leave me alone option?” said another.

Right now, organizers are navigating how to bring their groups face-to-face again, and attendees may feel out of practice in the art of socializing after the isolation of the pandemic. Research has shown that this is normal for isolated populations, that social skills can diminish if left dormant. Much like the popular social distancing wristbands, this simple step could help to ease the initial awkwardness of meeting face-to-face with at-a-glance nonverbal cues. It could also be applied to other event collateral as well, like badges and pins‚ as suggested by Sara Roberts, CMP, DES, who recently shared the idea to her LinkedIn page.

“I love this example because it provides an excuse for those nervous networkers and attendees who like to stick with their [pack],” said Roberts, an event management and marketing expert. “You’re encouraging attendees to have conversations with new people. You’re providing the space to foster meaningful connections and this simple nudge is enough for many to strike up a conversation.”

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.