Sometimes we underestimate bravery and we don’t see it when it is happening.
It is easy for us insiders, those that do the conference planning, those that know nearly everyone or at least the regulars, to get excited about networking, receptions and having the time to schmooze.
But for others, new members, first time attendees, and those on the introverted side these things give us a visceral choking feeling of unease.
Engagement happens when a member meets someone like them. They feel at home. They are understood. There is that moment of connection. This doesn’t happen in many sessions but it does happen when attendees talk. Unfortunately that can’t happen when attendees miss out on networking activities.
This is what they say:
“I’m not a joiner”
“I hate these things”
“I don’t know anyone so there’s no point in going”
“I don’t mingle well”
“This kind of event is not for me”
“Networking is the worst thing I’ve had to do this week”
I kid you not, these are real comments from actual members. While our long-time more active members are running to the reception other members are in their hotel room beating back fear, dreading getting on that elevator to head for one of the most uncomfortable hours of their week, month, year, life.
How do we lure those who were planning on a night of room service and TV? Well we can’t lure everyone but we can encourage more members to join us by facilitating the experience.
Let’s think not just about setting the stage (food & beverages, table layout, room) but go one leap further and plan the experience.
Some ideas to get you started:
- Nominate, train and reward the welcoming committee – just upon arriving each attendee is warmly welcomed and is engaged in conversation. Why did they come to the conference? What are they hoping to achieve? Who would they like to meet?
- Plan an activity – at an entrepreneurs conference this summer the evening networking activity was Late Night Art. A creative, brainstormy, interactive experience that had all of us laughing, talking and hugging.
- Help like people to meet – do you work for a small organization, here is a group of small organizations? Are you struggling with getting a program started, here is a group of professionals also implementing that program. Will you have to influence others in your organization, these folks over here are talking about how they are doing that.
Our members are unique from association to association but united in the fact that it takes a significant amount of bravery for some members to network conference-style. How can your association make this experience easier and more fun for those who usually expend a significant amount of emotional energy just to decide to walk through the door?