How Encouraging Networking at Events Actually Works

At the Nordic Business Forum in Stockholm this week the organizers made serious efforts to encourage networking -- one of the key value adds for conferences like this. Among other things they had a designated area for Brella meetups arranged through the event meetup app Brella, with prizes for the most active networkers and they took care to promote networking from the stage.

Before the very first break the event moderator André Noel Chaker stressed the importance of being open to networking, displaying a diagram on the big screens showing how people should stand in open mingle groups to encourage other people to approach. This didn't work as well as it might. But he also told the audience to be open to meeting new people and invited everyone to commit to this. Borrowing from the "Commitment and Consistency" chapter of Robert Cialdini's classic textbook "Influence" he invited everyone to commit to this openness before leaving the room.

Did it work? Anecdotally it did. Since I have been teaching networking for ten years and literally wrote the book on the subject I am always interested in what works and what doesn't. My experience in the breaks is that it did work, though perhaps not in the way that you might expect. I doubt that anyone in the audience is really unaware that they should be open to meeting new people, but where the moderator's words succeeded is in giving the mostly Nordic audience -- all the people I met were Swedish or Finnish -- an excuse to talk to strangers. Several people opened conversations with words like "Since the guy told us to be open...", suggesting that otherwise they might have struggled to find an excuse.

So in a way the moderator's words did have some impact, perhaps motivating some people to reach out more but more likely helping to overcome people's discomfort when talking to a stranger. There is a useful lesson in this for all event organizers aiming to boost the networking at their conferences. And making the networking more effective makes the event more successful, so this should always be a top priority. Perhaps the attention given to this at the Nordic Business Forum has contributed to the growth of these conferences. At the first event in Stockholm this week there were a thousand people in the audience; most of the people I talked to were planning to attend next year. Count me in, too.

2017 Edition of Payforward Networking.  There's more about this and other networking techniques in the 2017 edition of Payforward Networking, available in both paperback and Kindle editions. You can get it from Amazon here:

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