Recently I attended a networking mixer at a conference, at the end of the day, in a room that had been set up banquet-style for earlier breakfast and lunch events. There were tables set up around the perimeter for service providers, nonprofits and other groups to promote their businesses. And there was a dessert table.
Unfortunately, because the room was set with tables -- and there was no structure to the event -- a person would come in, get a brownie and coffee and sit down at a table with the same people she had been talking to all day.
There was no motivation for attendees to move around and meet new faces. Nor was there motivation for them to walk around and look at the information displayed at the tables.
How would I improve this event?
1. I would get rid of the banquet-style seating. People would remain standing and be more inspired to move around the room. This networking event was only an hour long, not too much time for people to have to stand. A few chairs could be scattered around, but not enough for everyone to sit down.
2. I would encourage the flow of traffic by having the desserts and coffee spread around the room instead of in just one place, again encouraging people to move and mingle.
3. I would move the vendors to the center of the large room, to make them more visible and create additional traffic flow. The room was too big for the number of attendees who showed up at the end of the day. Had the vendors' tables been set up in a square in the middle of the room, with vendors inside and attendees outside, the vendors would have had more visibility, and the attendees would have been more inclined to move around the tables on their way to dessert.
4. I would structure some actual networking, perhaps a speed networking activity, where a pair of attendees takes two minutes each to introduce themselves and chat, then moves on to the next pairing. This structured event could take a total of 15 minutes or less, and the attendees would actually get to meet someone new before going back to the comfort of their colleagues.
If you're going to call it a "networking event," some effort needs to be made to allow for and encourage networking. It's not a networking event if participants stay in one place the whole time, talking to the same people they came with.
How would you improve on this event?