You’re hosting the mixer to end all mixers. Everything is perfect—the venue, the weather, and you’ve even managed to sell out. But the attendees are standing on opposite sides of the wall with their faces buried in their phones.
No one is talking. It’s more awkward than a jr. high dance.
The success of industry events, conferences, mixers, and meet-and-greets depends on your guests making connections. If they don’t feel like they made new contacts or added to their circle of colleagues, they aren’t likely to return next year.
1. Kick Off Networking Before the Event
Meeting online is easier than in-person networking. Encourage digital interaction before the event.
Have guests register, even if it’s a free event on Brown Paper Tickets. That way, you can estimate attendance, email updates, and guests can have discussions right on the event page.
Make a hashtag and promote it on your event page or if you’re having a larger conference, create a Facebook group. Write fun polls to engage attendees, such as ‘would you rather have unlimited tacos or popsicles at the after party?’
Guests can virtually meet and then do things like form carpools, give tips, or arrange post-event happy hours.
2. Give ’em Something to Talk About
Be silly, be creative, just don’t be boring. Look for opportunities with your nametags, event signage, booth swag to show off personality and get your attendees talking.
Here’s a swag wheel Brown Paper Tickets made for a booth at DragCon. It captured attention, drew people in, and made a fantastic ice breaker.
For smaller networking events, give space on the nametags for attendees to write something memorable about themselves. This gives shy people an easy conversation starter and a way to remember who they just met.
Name: Amanda H.
Spirit Animal: Tree Kangaroo
Name: Ron S.
Favorite food: Breakfast meat (any)
Name: Leslie K.
Most likely to: Scrapbook this networking event
2. Optimize the Venue for Chitchat
Set up the venue space in a way that facilitates chitchat. Cocktail-style seating is optimal for the standard meet and greet, because it allows your guests to move about the space freely and is less intimidating to wallflowers than other seating arrangements.
Here’s a standard floor plan for a low-key mixer:
3. Networking Games
Speed networking is modeled after speed dating—the object is to meet as many people as you can in a short time. Each participant gets a specific amount of time to introduce themselves, which varies depending on the size of the group.
The standard is 3 minutes for each attendee, so if you had 10 attendees, allot 30 minutes to speed networking.
Penny for Your Thought
This one works well for smaller groups. Give attendees pennies (no more than 15 years old) and ask each person to share something that happened to them in that year. Kick it off with something lighthearted and amusing or a career-related anecdote, so it doesn’t get too serious.
Business Card Challenge
Who doesn’t love a challenge? Ask your attendees to collect as many business cards as they can. It’s the perfect challenge for big groups and you can add stipulations to ramp up the fun—such as, you can only exchange cards after a minute of talking.
Bonus tip: go to a few networking and business events before you plan one yourself. Are people talking to each other or awkwardly texting? Take notes on what works and what does not.