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This is an excerpt of a blog post that originally appeared at Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects.
Association meeting professionals continue to tout networking as one of their meetings' primary benefits, yet the events demonstrate hardly any intentional design to increase the connections that participants seek. Here are a few woefully obvious, yet still underutilized, tactics for doing so that cost next to no time or money.
Consider organizing registration lines around something other than the alphabet. I have nothing in common with other people whose last name begins with C. If registration lines were organized by geographic region, however, while standing in line I might connect with someone form my general vicinity, someone with whom I might network in person after the event or perhaps even already know.
Include space on name badges for Twitter handles and in participant listings for other social media connections (LinkedIn, Facebook, et al.) that individuals may wish to share.
Allow on-site volunteering, letting individuals sign up to be a part of many small groups doing task work to help with the conference: session monitors, registration, greeting people at general sessions. We connect with others while contributing to the conference - that's a two-fer.
Turn your participant directory from an address book into a true networking tool by adding two fields on the registration form and then publishing them in the directory: (1) topics I want to learn more about, and (2) topics I could be a resource on for others.
So many events still aren't doing the basics, yet the suggestions above really are yesterday's news. In the future, we'll know a conference isn't serious about networking unless it acknowledges that a healthy percentage of participants now come with their own powerful networks already cultivated (via social media), and conference components leverage those relationships and include more time for collaboration and co-creation.
Cufaude is a longtime contributor to the association community through writing, conference design, workshop and keynote presentations, and retreat and strategy think tank facilitation. Contact him at 317-267-0047 or email@example.com.