It can be a bit of a challenge to plan a successful networking event or opportunities to network within your corporate event. You have to strike a fine balance between formal and casual, organized and free-form, to create a gathering that provides the ideal mix of entertainment and opportunity. Try one or more of these professional networking event ideas for your next networking event. When your networking opportunities are successful for attendees, they’ll be more than happy to keep coming back for every event you hold.
Why Most People Still Prefer to Network in Person
Virtual and hybrid events can offer some great networking opportunities. And virtual event organizers are coming up with innovative, professional virtual networking event ideas that boost engagement and make online networking sessions more effective.
But even so, it’s still generally accepted that in-person networking is most effective—and preferred by most event attendees. Part of this is just simple familiarity. Most of us are used to networking in person, so it’s what feels more natural and organic. But face-to-face communication is also, in general, more effective. In person, it’s easier to connect people because they can pick up on non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language.
There’s also the technical side of things. At in-person networking events, there are no extra apps, accessories, or enhancements needed to organize and run the event. The host may need a microphone if the group is a large one, but otherwise, it’s all face-to-face communication. There are no potential tech problems or connection issues, allowing everyone to focus on getting to know one another and exchanging information without distractions.
How Can You Keep Networking Events Fresh and Exciting?
There’s more to a successful networking event than just getting a group of people together in the same room and leaving them to it. Most opportunities for networking benefit from having a host. Whether it’s the organizer or someone else who’s been appointed to the role, a host helps break the ice and bring people together. The host is generally also responsible for running any scheduled activities.
The primary function of a networking event is to help people forge new connections, so, naturally, the most successful networking events are usually the ones that actively create opportunities for connection. Often that means planning one or more activities, whether it’s just a five-minute icebreaker or something more elaborate. When planning activities, however, make sure networking remains the main focus of the event. If you’ve advertised a networking event or breakout session, networking must be the focus. The activities should be in service to the networking, not the other way around.
Here are a few networking ideas that can keep your event fresh and make it more memorable and effective for attendees:
- An amazing venue. A unique or otherwise impressive event venue can be a great icebreaker at network events. If the venue has a stunning view, beautiful gardens, or some interesting works of art, there’s always an easy topic at hand to start new conversations.
- Great food. Offer some interesting and delicious food options, served buffet-style so people have a chance to interact as they help themselves.
- Live entertainment. Live music, a comedian, or a magician or illusionist can be the perfect addition to a networking event because it gives attendees something to watch and engage with as they transition into networking. Just make sure your live entertainment doesn’t take up the entire event schedule, so people have plenty of time for doing what they’re there for. Once the event is over, attendees have the chance to bond over the shared experience of the entertainment you chose and use it as a springboard for making new connections.
- Speaker session. If you prefer, swap out the live band or comedian for a speaker or a panel or forum discussion on a topic relevant to the industry. Let people mingle freely afterwards, or, alternatively, organize small groups to talk about the session everyone’s just seen.
- Facilitated match-making. When attendees register for the event, ask them to fill in a short survey about their business interests. You can use that information in a variety of ways to facilitate match-making at the event. For instance, the host, armed with background information on attendees, can make introductions that match people who are likely to find the connection useful. Or you can create a printed or digital document with attendee biographies. They can then use that information to help them decide who they’d like to connect with.
- Icebreaker games. Not everyone is a natural networker, and most attendees will appreciate organized activities that help break the ice. Starting off a networking event with a quick series of games can help people loosen up and get over any initial hesitation. Icebreaker questions or a trivia quiz are simple but effective options.
- Gamify the event. Gamification has most recently been adopted in the virtual events industry to boost attendee engagement online. Before that, it was a popular way to encourage participation at a wide range of live events too. For a networking event, for instance, you could award attendees a point for every new connection they make, with prizes for the highest totals.
- Scavenger hunt. Simple and effective, scavenger hunts are popular in a wide range of settings. Get people into groups, give each one a list of items to find, and turn them loose. Team activities are ideal for building connections, and activities are easy to gamify, making them highly effective for boosting engagement.
- Roundtable networking. Encourage networking on a deeper level by separating attendees into several smaller groups for roundtable discussions. Give each group a discussion topic—for instance, a question to answer or problem to solve—and space to interact freely.
- Speed networking. Similar to speed dating, this concept sees attendees pair off for three to five minutes at a time. After the allotted time, everyone must find a new partner with whom to pair off for the next round. Once the speed portion of the event is over, attendees are free to continue a previous conversation or make new connections.
- Activity workshop. An arts-and-crafts workshop can be a great mix of activity and conversation, perfect for casual networking. With this format, an artisan generally guides the group as they paint a picture or craft an item. As they follow along, participants find plenty of opportunities to talk amongst themselves. By the end of the session, everyone has a new contact or two, plus a handmade item to take home.
- Wine/beer/food tasting. Another casual option, where participants spend some time with a sommelier or beer expert, tasting various vintages and brews. Make sure to provide food, as well as some non-alcoholic beverage options, to cover all tastes and preferences.
Networking Is Vital, so Plan for Success
While 80% of professionals say networking is vital to their career, 49% say they don’t have enough time for it. Dedicated networking events can be an effective way of helping people find the time. When done right, these events can be hugely popular. Add some exciting business networking event ideas into the mix, and make your networking opportunities the perfect combination of fun and fruitful.