You’ve worked incredibly hard to put together a great conference. You’ve got a solid slate of speakers. You’ve got evening, morning, and even off-site entertainment. You’ve organized a vendor hall, after parties and some fantastic alternative programming for people who need a break from the scheduled activities. You’re pretty sure that everybody is going to take home some awesome memoriesif you can get them to talk to each other.
It’s true that, often at conferences and conventions, people attend in pairs or small groups. There are a lot of reasons for thiseverybody likes having an event buddy, especially if it is their first time attending an event of this nature. Even so, you know that part of the fun and benefit of events like this is networking and meeting new people. So how do you encourage people to do that?
One of the best ways to get people to spend time together and, hopefully, forge new relationships, is to host a series of smaller meet ups both leading up to and during the event itself. Advance meetups will help locals get to know each other and forge bonds before the event begins. Small meetups during the event allow people who might not feel comfortable networking on a large scale network on a small scale with people they know are already interested in the same ideas as themselves. You can arrange meetups based on occupation, interest, alumni/newbie attendance, etc.
Use the Internet
The XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon is one of the premiere festivals of its type (purposefully small scale and community oriented events meant to connect industry insiders with hopeful joiners). This year they set up an event based Slack Network to help people “meet” and talk before the event itself. This proved to be so successful that they kept the Slack Network going after the event. You can set this up yourself through community bulletin board systems, blogs, social media groups, etc. Encourage people to hang out online before meeting. It will help break the ice before they are face to face and will foster bonding and networking for after the event as well.
Apps Are Your Friends
These days, you can create an app for everythingeven events and conferences. Setting up your own mobile event app will help attendees find each other and coordinate during your event. They are also helpful for connecting attendees with speakers, event organizers and getting feedback on the event in real time. Most importantly, it gives those who are introverted the opportunity to socialize through a medium they find comfortable. Not everybody is okay walking up to someone and starting a conversation. The shy among you will need a method of communication that works for them.
Forego Ice Breakers
Seriously. Nobody them. Even at meetups and in-conference group sessions; create a no-ice breakers policy. Your attendees will love you for it.
Finally, make sure you have an iron-clad anti-harassent policy in place. We all want to think of the events we create as absolutely safe places and even though we work hard to make that a reality, sometimes bad things happen. Having a zero tolerance policy and a robust reporting and reaction system in place will go a long way toward creating an event that truly is a safe place for everyone who attends. It is also a good idea to have a photo policy in place. For example, at many Comic Cons, there are very strict rules against photographing others without obtaining consent. Make sure this language is included in your harassment policy.
It takes a lot of work to create a space in which people will want to interact and network with each other. Hopefully these tips will help you do exactly that at your next conference or convention.