Hearing “Let’s play some ‘get to know you’ games” at your event is a phrase sure to instantly trigger anxious middle school (or even adulthood) memories and have people start looking for the bar or even the exit.
But it doesn’t have to be this way – conference organizers, if they at least avoid using those words to start with, can create enjoyable opportunities for guests to break the ice, get out of their shells and maybe get some business deals cooking.
Attendees are often at conferences alone or with a few co-workers, and may not know many others. And many times, corporate networking events are held early on, when people are even less familiar with each other’s products and services. So there’s always the potential for very little actual mingling to take place.
At the same time, many guests are excited to have a day off from work or a night off from the family, which adds to the willingness to let their hair down. Some likely are attending solely to promote their businesses and build their brand, which also forces them to talk to others more than they would in traditional social situations.
So there are definitely challenges involved in getting people to connect as organically as possible. Food and drinks always help, as does the shared realization that everyone is probably a little nervous about being there but ultimately will decide to look for opportunities to have fun as well as build some leads.
Try some of these strategies to encourage this style of positive networking in your event entertainment:
Make it timed
Using the speed dating format at your corporate networking event is a great way to get people moving.
Instead of letting people mingle and risk some of them talking too much or others too little, give everyone one minute to give a quick one-on-one pitch of who they are and what they do.
Then re-shuffle. If there’s enough people, people can continue their discussion when they re-connect, one minute at a time. This can potentially expose people to more guests than they might meet on their own, and allow them to make their decisions who to follow up with later, such as possible leads.
Play the business version of ‘have you ever’
This one is a great corporate networking event icebreaker. Turn the classic drinking game into an opportunity for people to compare notes about how crazy their industry is and get everyone laughing about it.
This will work best if everyone is in a similar line of work. The drinking game revolves around someone throwing out an outlandish behavior or action, and everyone who has been in that particular situation performs an action – which usually ends up to be drinking. In the conference version, people can share things like crazy client requests, interesting days at work, or memorable workplace adventures.
Tell the truth
Ask each person to write down three things people won’t know about them professionally or their job, but the catch is that only one item is true. Other guests will have fun guessing which is which, perhaps in the form of yes or no questions and answers. This format could be especially enjoyable if people work in the same field so people generally will know the basic duties.
Separate by color
When people check in, give them each a different colored dots or color swatches on their nametags, but don’t tell them why. This encourages conversation as they try to match others with their color. As the organizers, you can encourage those with the same color to sit together at meals, attend sessions together or perform tasks together.
This gets them talking to members of your color who you may not have reached out to on your own. This build loyalty and common ground.
Or go the opposite route and require only one of each color to be seated at a table. This keeps people from ‘clustering’ in terms of always sitting by co-workers or others they may know in the field and requires them to sit with others they may not know.
Fill the square
Give everyone a grid and tell them to perform certain tasks in order to get it filled out. Maybe it could be visiting every booth or talking to every vendor. Maybe it can be learning about different businesses or promotions (highlight those sponsors!). Some of the more challenging squares can encourage people to team up or meet someone new, even as a required task.
Once you start being creative or adapting traditional ice breakers or party games with a fun business touch, you’re on your way to having a memorable event where people get out of the comfort zone but not get too crazy and maybe go home with some solid leads.