A new study by Loughborough University and Imago Venues has revealed the most and least effective ways to network at meetings and conferences.
Conversation analysts, Professor Elizabeth Stokoe and Dr Magnus Hamann, observed how people behave and communicate in networking spaces and how their actions were influenced by the environment in which they were and that objects that were around them.
Based on the research findings here are five suggestions for conference and meeting organisers to make networking easier for delegates:
1. Design the social room: Small standing tables provide useful resources for people to create interactional circles.
2. Provide slightly fewer tables than are required by the number of delegates This to encourage movement around the social room.
3. Create some open space, to permit spontaneous creation of, and movement in and out of, interactional circles, independently of tables.
4. Ensure there is more than one queuefor food/drinks. This is not just because it is good service, but also because it creates opportunities for brief, escapable or continuable, encounters.
5. Name-badgescreate different opportunities and should be thought through more carefully. If the delegates are likely to know each other already, make the name large enough to read. This will aid poor memories.
Also, consider colour-coding the badges – as with lanyards – so that delegates can identify other delegates from sponsors. Remember that hard-to-read name badges, while in some ways a bad thing, also create a ready resource for people to start a conversation (e.g., “What’s your name – I can’t see your badge!”)
Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University, said: “There is an overwhelming amount of information online about how to network but it isn’t always the best advice.
“The goal of networking is to have a friction-free, seamless, productive conversation that leaves your recipient(s) with a good and memorable first impression and a basis for future interaction.”
Emma Boynton, head of sales and marketing at Imago Venues, said: “We know that when delegates attend conferences, they tend to find the most engagement from the networking sessions or breakout periods and not necessarily the content of the conference.
“It was important for us to commission this research to help people make the most out of those interactions but, more importantly as a venue, to raise the question of whether organisers and venues can be doing more to better facilitate great networking.