Invariably the primary or secondary reason that people will give for attending a business event is networking. The other main reason – and this varies from event to event – will be the educational content.
Delegate Select considers itself to be a world leader when it comes to facilitating networking at events. Over the past eight years, we have witnessed many very successful and some less successful implementations by our customers of our one-to-one networking solutions.
If I had to distil our accumulated learning into six simple lessons, they would be these:
1. Make sure your service is visible and easy to access. Having a meeting service but not having easy access to it on your main event website generally means you are relying on people to find the link to the service in emails or text messages they may (or may not) have to hand. This is very wasteful.
2. Profile your people correctly. Sometimes called demographics, profiling refers to the information you collect from registrants. You don’t need to ask registrants lots of questions, but you do need to get them to classify themselves in such a manner that they appear in the right result set when people make qualified searches for potential meeting partners. The best way to design your profiling categories is simply to put yourself in the position of another attendee and ask what you would really like to know about your fellow attendees. If you are running a two-group event – e.g. solution providers/delegates or exhibitors/visitors – then you should probably be profiling each group differently. You can collect profiling information for your own benefit too. This information does not have be searchable by other registrants. But I’d suggest you keep this to a minimum, such as one question like “How did you hear of the event?”
3. In general, the longer lead time you can give people the more confirmed meetings you are likely to generate. However, there is a balance between lead time and having enough registrants on the system when the meeting service is opened to convey to users a sense that the event is going to be well attended. We have run our service at events where the one-to-one networking has actually fueled the desire to register, attend and arrange meetings – even to the extent that the ultimate constraint on the total number of meetings was the physical lack of meeting tables and time slots. This is not set in stone. We have also seen events where a good number of meetings were confirmed, even though the meeting service was opened only a few days before the event.
4. Send follow-up communications to boost the number of confirmed meetings. This does not need to be a burden to you. Nor do you want to bombard your attendees with emails. Our administrative desktop, like some others on the market, allows you to easily segment your target audience and send personalized emails to them. You therefore might want to prepare brief template emails for the following groups of people in advance:
· People who have received meeting requests, but have not yet gone to the system. Remind them to respond.
· People who received the introductory email but not yet engaged with the system (and have not yet been invited to meetings). Just remind them that the system is there and give them an idea of the sort of companies and people with whom they could be meeting. Perhaps let them know how well some of their colleagues/competitors are doing in this regard!
· You might also consider a third email to be sent to all registrants three or four days before the event, reminding them that the event is approaching and they should hurry up and make as many confirmed meetings as possible before then.
5. If attendees do not have their own dedicated meeting place, have a meeting area with tables or booths that can be automatically allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. With two groups of attendees, it is likely that your solution providers or sponsors or exhibitors will have their own stand, pod or room. Their meetings should take place there. If your event permits peer-to-peer meetings among delegates, consider having an area called the “Meeting Zone” (or something similar) with numbered tables. Your meeting software should automatically take care of the allocation of tables and should not permit meetings to take place in a timeslot where there is no remaining meeting place (or vice-versa). Such a solution requires minimal or zero staffing prior to and during the event, because each attendee’s itinerary tells them, “You are meeting such and such a person, at such and such a time, at such and such a place.” An alternative is to let people meet at various meeting points during your event, but this is much less effective.
6. Brand your solution to give it some exclusivity. Consider branding the networking solution and, if you run more than one event, using that brand across all of them. Without giving away any secrets, one of our customers chose a brand that generated a real sense of exclusivity. When used in their marketing communications it has generated an enormous amount of participation, year after year.
* * *Delegate Select’s one-to-one networking solutions empower event producers with excellent opportunities to generate additional income along with valuable information about their registrants. We’re always happy to discuss these benefits with you and offer advice and suggestions about adding networking to your event.