Events are a way to bring people together and provide a common space for interaction and sharing. People attend events to discover like-minded professionals and make valuable connections. At least, this is the ideal script.
Usually presented as an extra bonus, networking is considered to be a “by default” activity, accompanied by a small extra incentive, such as ice-breaking games.
However, networking has started to gradually reveal its complexity.
Hundreds of articles, “networking” gurus, and online classes about how to interact at events prove how dreadful and awkward this experience can be.
Why is this happening?
Why do people have a hard time connecting with others at events?
And most important, why is it so difficult to plan a truly meaningful and valuable networking dynamic?
What’s wrong with networking?
Let’s start by saying that meaningful connections between people require openness and vulnerability.
Not an easy state to achieve, especially at events, when the only networking tends to happen during coffee breaks.
Different networking styles, different motivations, different emotions and egos … all these not-so-small details also affect your guests’ experience.
No matter what the networking interests are, your attendees must take the first step (which, for most people, is the most difficult step to take), which is approaching another person and introducing yourself.
When was the last time you were happy and self-confident about talking to a stranger?
The uncertainty levels are too high, which is why most event guests feel uncomfortable and stressed out about networking.
Apart from that, they come to your event with a specific agenda, but aren’t sure they’ll meet their goals or achieve their expected results.
So what’s wrong with networking at events?
Two things: as planners, we ignore the psychology of our attendees, expecting they’ll transform the networking experience into a valuable exchange by themselves. We also don’t pay closer attention to networking design, which can ensure truly valuable outcomes.
How do we fix that?
From uncertainty to building connections that matter
Networking interests can reach a broad spectrum.
Some people attend events to initiate collaborations or get their faces and names out there, some want to learn more about others or find something specific.
However, all these motivations have a common leitmotif: the need to connect, share, and built relationships outside the context of your event.
People don’t find value in exchanging business cards during events—most people just throw them in the trash bin later.
Whether it’s about initiating collaborations, identifying leads, or learning from others, people want real connections and results.
So it’s important to stop wasting your attendees’ time by engaging them in silly ice-breaking games during coffee breaks.
Those activities won’t lead to meaningful interactions.
However, to get people to connect at your events and actually form interpersonal relationships, you must provide the right atmosphere.
It’s your responsibility to take care of how your attendees feel before and during the networking dynamic. And the psychology of uncertainty is simple.
Your guests don’t know who’ll be attending your event or whom they’ll meet. Also, they aren’t sure if their interaction interests will match anyone else’s.
The lack of coherence between the offer and demand can lead to awkward situations and wasted time.
All these possibilities will cause anxiety and have a negative impact on your attendees’ experience.
To keep this from happening, here are some recommendations that will help you reduce unpredictable circumstances and provide a safe networking environment for the event assistants:
Help your attendees prepare in advance
One way to eliminate the uncertainty factor is to help your attendees connect before the event by giving them access to the guest list so they can choose with whom they want to network during the event.
This will allow your attendees to prepare themselves ahead of time and be more confident about the interactions and outcomes. Moreover, by adopting the right event technology, you can help your attendees schedule one-on-one meetings with prospects during the event.
Take a result-oriented approach
Be aware that your attendees might have different networking interests. Some of them will want to sell or buy something; others will want to ignite business collaborations, and so on.
However, it’s your responsibility to guarantee positive results for all of your guests, regardless of their agenda.
To make this happen, be sure to set up an in-depth networking form (separate from the registration form) that will let you capture and analyze your potential attendees’ motivations.
This data will leave you well-equipped to match the offer and demand, and reduce your attendees’ uncertainty levels to zero.
Provide a professional environment
The easiest way to run a networking dynamic is to invite people to have some coffee and cookies. Obviously, it’s always nice to design some organic movement and let your guests mingle.
However, if you really want to help your attendees build meaningful connections (or at least find prospects that really matter), you’ll have to provide a controlled environment for interaction.
As an example, think about providing a networking zone. The sole purpose of this special space will be to interact with other attendees, which will set the tone for building connections and eliminating the awkwardness of informal networking spaces.
Determine a structure and clear purpose
Think for a second about your planning meetings. Do you have moments when there’s no structure and you’re wasting time listening to pointless stories from your team members?
What do you do to transform the planning meetings into efficient experiences? You most likely design a structure (such as a meeting agenda) and expect to achieve certain goals, right?
The same thing happens with attending networking dynamics.
When your attendees have no structure and only a vague idea about what they want to achieve, most of the time, the results won’t be satisfactory.
Yet, when everyone has a clear agenda (with time blocks and the names of people they want to interact with), the uncertainty level decreases drastically.
Find prospects that matter
A great source of anxiety and ambiguity for your attendees is wondering if they’ll meet valuable investors, leads, buyers, etc. (depending on their networking interests).
Nobody wants to attend an event that has nothing to offer in terms of networking. That’s why qualifying your guests is a must.
You can do that by analyzing the answers the guests submitted through the networking forms and vetoing people who don’t meet the criteria.
When planning your next event, think about networking as a highly uncertain experience. Subsequently, plan it toward eliminating the unpredictable factors and ensuring a safe environment for interaction.
By eliminating the fear of the unknown, you’re giving your attendees the necessary background they need to connect with others at your events and actually form important relationships.