A stellar conference agenda requires a tasteful mix of standout speakers, thought-provoking breakout sessions and valuable networking opportunities. In fact, research from Amex Global Business Travel shows networking is the second biggest motivator for attendees choosing to come to events, after content.
To add new spice to your meeting's networking opportunities, we've rounded up four tips to help you leave a lasting impression.
1. Look for a location that wows
When it comes to pulling off a successful networking event, location is paramount. Opt for an eye-catching venue, whether it be the hotel's rooftop bar or a garden gathering.
Meeting planners should also take care when setting up the space. Researchers from Loughborough University suggest using small standing tables that encourage attendees to gather in groups of three or four and remain on the move, meeting as many people as possible.
"It's really simple for the venues themselves to facilitate networking by thinking carefully about the types, amount and layout of furniture in the room," said Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University in England. "Providing a combination of sit-down tables and poseur tables -- as well as several tables and space for queues to get food or drinks -- maximizes the opportunities for short or sustained conversation and the chance to escape from a difficult chat."
2. Focus on the food
The way to a meeting attendee's heart is often through their stomach. But when it comes to selecting a networking event menu, bigger isn't always better. Rather, event professionals should opt for tiny bites packed with taste that conference goers can take on the go with nothing more than a napkin.
"Forget plates," said Madison Layman, senior associate of content marketing at Cvent, on the event tech company's blog. "None of the food you serve should require utensils. Small bites or stations throughout the room that promote grazing are best."
3. Up the stakes
One way to spice up a networking event is with gamification. After all, who doesn't like a little friendly competition? Offering prizes can also help increase attendance.
Event production company Endless Events recommends creating a game of human bingo, where guests are given 5x5 bingo cards and tasked with meeting others in the room who check off certain boxes, such as having worked in the industry for 10 or more years, or hailing from a specific state.
Another option is the business-card collection contest, which rewards the person who collects the most business cards during the event. To make sure attendees are creating valuable connections, planners can implement additional parameters requiring that conversations last at least a few minutes each and that participants write down three or more facts learned about each new connection.
4. Create badges that help break the ice
Rather than run-of-the-mill badges that simply feature a guest's name and company, create more detailed badges that help kickstart conversations.
Bizzabo, an event-software company, suggests featuring a fun fact or conference goal on each person's badge. For example, the badges at Google's ORD Camp event include three conversation starters under the name, as well as a star symbol to identify returning attendees. A quick glance at these badges can provide a lot of information and help conference goers figure out to whom they should introduce themselves.