5 Ways to Drive Attendee Networking at Your Event
Plan on- and off-site activities to help your more introverted members swap business cards like a long-term lobbyist.
You probably put a decent amount of thought into the networking events your meetings offer. Networking is a big reason many of your members pay their dues each year and attend your annual meeting.
Now imagine that you had to plan networking events with people who speak multiple different languages. That’s a challenge Lions Clubs International (LCI) staff face each year as they plan their annual convention.
“Out of 30,000 attendees, 75 percent were from countries outside the United States,” said Gloria Geske, division manager at LCI, about the group’s recent centennial celebration at Chicago’s McCormick Place. But Lions come to the annual meeting specifically to find out what other Lions are doing in their communities, so LCI provides many ways for them to connect.
And while there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned cocktail reception, those events are ultimately best suited to the extroverts in your group. If you plan some simple on- or off-site activities, you might find a more diverse group of members mixing it up together.
Here are five ways to help your attendees get to know each other—while also giving them a good time!
1. Provide lots of photo ops.
Provide your attendees cool photo ops, and they will be drawn to them like bees to honey. And as they snap and post away—along with your event hashtag—everyone’s happy!
Inside the convention hall at McCormick Place, LCI set up a green screen with the iconic Chicago Theatre as the backdrop. “With our group you can’t have enough photo ops,” said Vivian Leabhart, LCI’s manager of convention services and meeting logistics. “We had a lot of cool things people could get their pictures in front of, like at some of the exhibits and the big welcome banner outside the South Building.”
2. Plan an on-site or off-site group project.
LCI held a 750-person welcome reception for a subset of attendees at Chicago’s Navy Pier. The organization grouped people by language, and asked each of the 26 groups to design a large canvass demonstrating the LCI motto “We Serve.”
“Everyone was mixing and mingling looking at what everyone was doing—and taking tons of photos,” Geske said. “I had no idea we had such good artists in the Lions!”
LCI also organized several service projects to give back to the Chicago community. “Those were also networking opportunities,” Geske said. “Multicultural teams cleaned up a beach, did a painting project at a community center, and assembled food kits,” among other projects.
3. Tour a local brewery.
Remember when there were just a handful of American beers. Nowadays, most cities have multiple local craft beers. Take advantage and book a local brewery tour. In Chicago, Lagunitas Brewing Company offers tours every day, and groups can pre-book tours at Goose Island Beer Company. Or find another brewery tour from this comprehensive list.
4. Create interactive exhibits.
Give attendees a shared experience by offering an interactive exhibit—anything from an educational demonstration to a pop culture trivia game.
LCI offered an experience in which attendees were blindfolded and given a cane so they could better understand how the visually impaired experience walking in a city. The exhibit was set up to simulate a busy city sidewalk, complete with loud traffic sounds and obstacles.
5. Facilitate social media connections.
You want to give your members face-to-face networking options, but help them stay connected by facilitating followings. Give attendees the option to include their Twitter or Instagram handle on their name badge or in their attendee list contact information.
Offering your attendees fun experiences—whether a photo op at the meeting venue or an off-site experience—is a great way for members to meet who might not otherwise. They might be having so much fun they won’t even realize they are making professional connections that could prove fruitful down the line.
Chicago is at the top of its game when it comes to hosting meetings. The city can accommodate any size group, offering a range of options for each meeting facet. Each article in this eight-part, how-to series tackles a specific piece of the meeting planning puzzle as part of the ultimate meeting playbook.