Meetings

Boost Your Networking Strategy at Events

By / Jul 11, 2019 (skynesher/E+/Getty Images Plus)

A new report looked at how people behave and communicate when they network, and then offered up tips to attendees about how do to it more effectively and to event organizers about how to create better environments for it.

When it comes to networking, I find that there are typically two camps: those who love it and those who hate it. But no matter what side you fall on, a new study from Loughborough University and Imago Venues offers up some concrete tips on how to do it better.

In “How to Network,” conversation analysts Elizabeth Stokoe and Magnus Hamann observed how people behave and communicate in networking spaces, and how their actions were influenced by the environment they were in and the objects that were around them. Their research resulted in 10 basic tips that will help anyone up their networking game. While I’ll leave it to you to read the full report, here a few takeaways that struck me as good reminders.

Know where to place yourself in the room. Researchers observed that activities typically take place in four networking environments: food and drink lines, open space in the room, standing tables, and sitting tables. According to Stokoe and Hamann, the best places to start a conversation are in lines or at tables. Chats in food and drink lines also have other benefits: They are easiest to join and exit, and people often moved from the line to a standing table to continue the conversation.

Put your coffee cup on a table. “If networking makes you nervous, arrive at the networking area early,” the researchers wrote. “Get a drink and place your cup on a standing table.” Why? Your cup invites others to place their own cups on the table, which creates a cluster that facilitates conversation.

Join the conversation. This may sound scary to some of you, but researchers say the best way to do this is to become part of a circle of people who are already networking. “A good way of joining the circle is to position yourself in the direct line of sight of the people who you want to interact with,” they wrote. “They are then likely to realign the circle and welcome you in.”

What It Means for Event Organizers

Sure, attendees can learn to be better networkers, but some responsibility also falls on meeting organizers to create environments that allow for conversations and connections to happen more easily.

The study offers up these five tips:

  1. Design a social room. This includes using small high-top tables that allow people to create circles.
  2. Encourage movement. This can be done by providing slightly fewer tables than are required by the number of attendees.
  3. Create open space. This will allow for the spontaneous creation of, and movement in and out of, small group circles.
  4. Have more than one line for food and beverage. Beyond being a good idea in terms of customer service, it also creates opportunities for brief conversations among attendees.
  5. Rethink name badges. I’ve blogged about name badges in the past, but this study reaffirms the importance of their design. For example, make sure names are large enough to read and consider color coding them so attendees can identify different colleagues.

No matter an attendee or organizer, this study once again shows that effective networking requires time and effort. What is the best networking advice you’ve ever shared or received? Tell us about it in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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