Say Goodbye to Traditional Networking Receptions

Most attendees come to your conferences to network. But if your networking options are feeling stale, take a cue from what some of your association peers have implemented recently.

Do you know what elements factor most into a person’s decision to attend a conference?

If you guessed education, location, or networking, you’re correct—and probably not at all surprised. According to the 2017 Decision to Attend Study, the top drivers are education (92 percent), the destination (78 percent), and networking (76 percent).

And although more than three-quarters of attendees are at your conference to network, if the setting and format of the networking opportunities you offer never evolve (hello networking happy hour!), they can start to feel monotonous and may turn attendees away.

So, if your networking events seems a little flat or stale, here are a few ideas your association colleagues have launched in the past year or so that may be worth considering.

Pick the brains of industry execs. After members said they were looking for more interactive networking opportunities with top-level producers and executives, the Producers Guild of America created the “Producers Mashup,” which made its debut at PGA’s April 2017 Produced By Conference. Attendees had the chance to network with a variety of veteran producers and development executives and ask them questions. “This new program exemplifies the Guild’s passionate commitment to educating and building a vital producing community,” said Vance Van Petten, PGA’s national executive director and COO, in a press release.

The format PGA used was fairly simple: A small group of attendees were placed at a table with a mentoring producer or executive and had 15 minutes to ask questions. When time was up, mentors rotated to another table to give guidance to a new group. Each table met with three mentors, including at least one producer and one development exec.

What made this event stand out was the 20-plus high-level industry pros PGA enlisted to participate. Among them was Fred Baron, executive vice president of feature production for 20th Century Fox, and Karen Bailey, senior vice president of original programming for Starz.

Get out and explore. Sometimes the best way to get people to connect is to take them outside the conference venue and allow them to learn more about the destination. That’s the route the Pan American Society for Clinical Virology took with its Networking Scavenger Hunt, which was held during its Molecular Virology Workshop this week. PASCV put attendees in teams and asked them to complete a list of tasks and answer questions related to clinical virology, PASCV, and the conference host city, West Palm Beach, Florida.

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies did something similar at its annual meeting in Utah last September. During the Women in Conservation Hike and Social Hour, attendees took a moderate hike along Barrier Free Trail.

Find a buddy. Going to a large conference can be intimidating for your more introverted attendees. That’s why many associations have conference buddy programs where they pair up long-time and well-established attendees with first-timers or those new to the industry.

The Florida Library Association will launch its conference buddy program later this month at its annual conference. The planning committee paired up participants ahead of the event so that buddies can make a plan to meet.

Plus, many groups—including the International Nanny Association—encourage the pairs to attend larger networking events and receptions together, so the newbies don’t have to go it alone. Buddies are also asked to introduce their partners to colleagues and help them network.

What creative networking activities or events have proven most successful at your association’s conferences? Please share in the comments.

Scavenger hunts are just one kind of networking event alternative. (LeoPatrizi/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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