Who's Who? Networking Ideas for Meetings and Events

By / Dec 12, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

People attend meetings for many reasons, but often at the top of their list is networking opportunities. Is your association doing everything it can to create connections and build relationships among attendees?

But whether it’s an attendee’s first or tenth time, he or she wants to establish connections with others in the industry, and networking at meetings is the ideal way to do that.

I was talking to two of my coworkers about networking a week or so ago. Most of the discussion was about how bad the three of us thought we were at it and how we could use some hands-on training that included techniques on how to approach large groups of people who all seem to know one another.

Then, a few days after that conversation, I came across a discussion about annual meeting networking activities in the Meetings & Expositions community on Collaborate (ASAE member log-in required). Meetings can be intimidating for attendees, particularly if it’s their first time attending and they don’t know anyone else. But whether it’s an attendee’s first or tenth time, he or she wants to establish connections with others in the industry, and networking at meetings is the ideal way to do that.

While Associations Now has covered networking  many times, I was surprised to discover I had yet to dedicate an entire blog post to it.

One of the respondents on the Collaborate thread said that the best networking opportunity she had taken part in was when speakers were asked to hold roundtable discussions of their earlier presentations at the end of the day. This gave attendees a chance to get to know each other better in these smaller groups, further share ideas, and exchange business cards. The National Association of Secondary School Principals took a similar strategy with its Connected Learning Center.

With that idea in mind, I set out to find a few other ways associations and industries are upping the networking game at their meetings and events.

B-I-N-G-O. The International Society for Experimental Hematology introduced a game at its 2013 annual meeting after noticing its junior researcher members were wary about networking with fellow attendees.

“We created a bingo-type card unique to the group,” ISEH Executive Director Kimberly Eskew told “Each of the 25 squares had a one-liner related to the field of hematology and stems cells or something personal. They try to find ISEH members who fit the criteria in each box and have them sign the card and provide their email. The first person to turn in the card before the conference ended received a free membership for next year.”

Virtual spaces. In August the first Library OnCon took place. While not directly tied to an association (although the idea for the event sprouted from a presentation at the Public Library Association’s annual meeting), the goal behind it was to deliver a brand-new networking concept to public librarians. The event—which took place only through Google Hangouts—kicked off with a keynote speaker. After that, participants could network in a live Google Hangout video breakout session with nine other participants, based on categories of interest ranging from business librarianship to community engagement. Organizers said virtual networking was a good fit for these librarians because registration fees, transportation, and off-desk schedules often keep them from attending in-person meetings and events.

Speedy setups. The American Society of Retina Specialists held a Speed Networking Evening at its 2014 annual meeting. The sold-out event matched ASRS members seeking employment opportunities with members hiring for their practices for a series of five- to seven-minute speed meetings. A cocktail reception followed to continue conversations and for attendees to network with colleagues. This is similar to an event held at the annual meeting of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research this year, where new ASBMR members and junior researchers had the opportunity to meet more than 10 researchers and learn about them and their career paths.

What new networking activities have you tried at your meetings to help your members connect? Let me know in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now. More »


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