Owner, Red Cedar Marketing, auhor of "The Social Trade Show: Leveraging Social Media and Virtual Events"
One of the top three reasons people attend conferences and trade shows is to network. People want to get together with their peers and exchange ideas, make connections, find help, and sometimes even find a new job.
Organizers tend to see this networking need as fulfilled just because they bring thousands of people together in one place. They stick attendees in a convention center or hotel and say, “There you go, now network.”
The problem is even if you consider yourself an expert networker, it’s hard to find the right people to spark up conversations that help you achieve your goals.
Many attendees walk into the opening night parties not knowing anyone. They wander around for a half hour and then give up because they are just not making connections with the right people.
A study conducted by Paul Ingram and Michael W. Morris of Columbia University titled Do People Mix at Mixers? Structure, Homophily and the “Life of the Party” shows us that while people have the best intentions of meeting strangers, the results don’t quite match up with our desires. The study showed that guests at a mixer tend to spend time talking to the few other guests whom they already know well.
People need help meeting new people. The good news is the help is available, and the right sponsor can facilitate good connections.
In our first piece in this series I talked about how a good sponsorship solves attendees problems. A people connector sponsorship shows the sponsor really understands the needs of their customer when they are attending a conference or trade show.
The People Connector Bundle
This sponsorship could include many different components. Different components that when used together addresses the needs of first time attendees, introverts, extroverts and c-level executives.
Online and mobile matchmaking software
What makes these tools standout is their ability to make it easy for attendees to find appropriate matches based on their social networks, areas of interest, and job history.
They also allow the attendees to start reaching out weeks before the actual event. They can take an active role in achieving their networking goals instead of depending on serendipity in line at the bar.
Exhibitor Show does a wonderful job connecting their attendees with their Dinner With Strangers program. This super low-tech idea is easy enough to implement for any type of event.
They hang up sign up sheets in a common area at their event where everyone is gathering naturally. All their attendees have to do is put their name down for one of the pre-reserved dinners and then show up at the restaurant.
All the organizer need do is book the reservation. This gives attendees a chance to meet 10-12 others over dinner. It also gives them an opportunity to try out area restaurants. No more reason to dine alone.
Special Targeted Events
First timer receptions are popular at many events. This gives attendees who likely don’t know anyone at an event the opportunity to meet a group of people and make new friends before the show event begins.
But what about those who’ve been going to the show for years and still want to meet up with other attendees who have expertise they are looking for, or problems similar to theirs?
You might have an event for CEOs, another event for CIOs of small colleges; another one for people going through transition, there is no limit to the number of groups you can connect.
You don’t need to throw expensive cocktail parties for each group either. It could be as easy as providing them an empty room at a specified time, in a sponsors booth after the show floor closes, at a customer site near the show’s location or even tables assigned by topic at lunch.
What a fantastic opportunity for a sponsor to sit in a room with a particular group and just listen to them discussing their challenges and what keeps them up at night. There’s some valuable market research right there.
Icebreakers can be helpful at large events for people who are not comfortable striking up a conversation with strangers. Just make sure these activities are voluntary. Not everyone wants to play games.
It’s also a good practice, no matter what type of Icebreaker you choose, to keep things focused on business. Instead of having attendees spend the entire night talking about pets, hobbies and number of children, throw in some conversation starters that are business focused.
How to leverage this sponsorship
You’re going to want to market the bejeezus out of this sponsorship to ensure there is wide adoption. Both the show organizer and the sponsor should be working together to market this opportunity and the message should be consistent.
Create videos and tip sheets on how each networking component works. Don’t leave it to the attendees to figure everything out on their own. Especially if you are using tech tools.
Create an “attendee connect” kiosk at the show staffed by the sponsor’s employees to answer any questions attendees may have. You could show them how to use the networking app, how to play the icebreaker games, find a group they could join, and even sign up for dinners.
This kiosk could be in a central area of the show floor, in the sponsor’s booth or even better yet, in a common area that is open even when the show floor is closed.