By Edgar Valdmanis
In my last post I discussed how we could see a seminar as a networking arena, in addition to the actual information exchange taking place.
One of the comments said: "For networking to take place the learning environment has to encourage it."
So how can you encourage networking if you organise a seminar? Because the reader is absolutely right—much is up to the organiser.
Let’s start with the invitation. Why not include a few lines saying straight out “Remember to bring your business cards. With more than xx attendees from the relevant industries this will also be a networking opportunity." This can be included regardless of the format of the invitation, whether is printed or e-mailed. The same message can be repeated whenever you send out confirmations and/or reminders.
If possible you can publish the attendees’ names on the seminar Web site. As long as you don’t publish contact information, but simply name, title and company this is acceptable in most countries. You could even draw attention to this by another message saying “Check who else is coming—complete list here(link to the page)."
An updated list of attendees should be made available on the day. This is again regardless of the length of the seminar, whether it’s a 90-minute breakfast seminar or one covering several days. If handing out the list is not self-explanatory you could add a sub-headline saying: ”See who you’ll meet today. Make the most of this networking opportunity."
Make sure everyone gets proper badges, with their name and company clearly stated in bold letters, preferably not less than font size 24. Many organisers skimp on cost and go for small sticky labels, that
a) are too small
b) therefore are unreadable
c) fall off within a couple of minutes
Don’t save on this item. If you want people to network, invest in proper badges.
You can’t always choose the layout of the room, but if you can you should go for round tables. If the room is filled to capacity a few people at each table will have to turn their heads to see the speaker at the front of the room. If there are a few seats to spare, this should not be a problem. Also, if the speaker is aware that he should engage the audience he will walk the floor, and this is much easier done with round tables than in a classroom- or cinema-setup. If round tables are not available, set the room with square tables to resemble round ones, e.g. with 3 people on either side. This still encourages people to greet each-other and get acquainted.
If not actually defined as “master of ceremony," someone will be
greeting all participants and opening the seminar. This person could
repeat the message urging people to network, and take the opportunity
to network with new acquaintances, not just the same people you met at
the same seminar last year.
If there are not too many attendees, the MC could ask all to introduce themselves to the others by a short "elevator-speech" of 20-30 seconds. If someone is not comfortable with doing this, that’s all right, just pass by whoever that chooses to opt out. For the rest it will be a nice ice-breaker in the morning, and the opt-outs will probably warm up during the course of the day anyhow.
And this is just for starters. There are more tips to come. In the meantime, perhaps some of the readers will want to comment or add suggestions of their own? Sound Off!
Edgar Valdmanis is the marketing director of the Norwegian Computer Society, and president of Meeting Professionals Norway Chapter.