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7 Ways to Create an Engaged Networking Community

As you map out your next event strategy, there’s no doubt that the goal is to provide an experience that is both memorable and valuable to attendees.

But, it can be a challenge to ensure that your brand stays top of mind when event lead times are months in advance.

One great way to increase visibility ahead of the big day is to create a community among attendees, speakers, sponsors, and influencers, by promoting networking and conversation.

This focus on engagement will benefit not only your audience but also your brand. Attendees will remember your event–and the community-building efforts surrounding it–as a valuable experience, one that helped them create meaningful relationships.

Below, we’ll touch on some ways that brands can create a great networking experience–both online and at the event–that brings value to all involved.

Free Download: Engagement Benchmarks to Track Ahead of Your Next Event

1. Work with Influencers, Speakers, and Sponsors

Lead by example and get your event partners to help you generate excitement ahead of the big day. If you’re working with speakers, sponsors, or industry partners, get them to help you out by pushing your event or exhibit on social media.

Make sure you provide everyone involved in the event with messaging and images they can share with their networks to make the process easy for them and be sure to tag them and highlight their contributions on your own channels.

Or, like you’ll see in this example below, do some cross-channel posting to promote the event.

2. Embrace the Dedicated Event App

Event apps are everywhere these days, and they do a good job helping brands demonstrate authority, improving attendee experience, and offering a portal for additional engagement opportunities.

For brands, the value is clear—apps give you another channel for collecting data and connecting with an audience.

3. Set Up a Speed Dating Event

One-on-one meetings might not be an ideal situation for every attendee. They might be short on time or perhaps a bit uncomfortable with the idea of booking one-on-ones.

Instead, you may want to try speed-dating style discussions where people can engage in quick chats and move on to the next one.

Give groups a few minutes to get to know each other, provide a list of topics, and watch that community come together.

4. Turn a Demo into a Networking Opportunity

Giving live product demos at an event is a great way to draw a crowd. Even today, you’ll still see people gathered around at a Costco to watch some amazing kitchen knife cut up a whole range of non-food items.

Add in technology like large touchscreen devices, VR headsets, or a compelling video and people will flock to your booth to see what all the buzz is about.

Take the opportunity to record any live demos you do at a trade show. These videos are an investment that keeps on giving for the long haul—you can use them on social media to show off your products, add them to your website, and use them to promote the same event next year.

So, how do demos encourage networking? Well, for one, they’re an opportunity to scan badges or collect emails as the price of entry. Two, a well-done demo is going to start a conversation, priming interested buyers for a deeper discussion about pricing and product details.

To do this well, make sure your booth is staffed with sales reps and/or brand ambassadors trained to sell on the spot.

5. Send Targeted Invites to Build Out Your Networking Community

Whether you’re setting up one-on-one meetings or want to encourage visitors to stop by your booth for a networking event, it’s a good idea to send out invites to those you most want to meet.

Many shows come with a pre-registration list of other attendees. Take note of potential prospects and suppliers you’d like to connect with and reach out to them on channels like LinkedIn, the event app, or if possible, email.

6. Host Roundtable Discussions

Roundtables are a perfect addition to your exhibition agenda. Why? Because they give attendees the chance to be a part of the conversation. Still, when you give everyone a chance to talk, chaos may ensue—and your vision of a civilized discussion could turn into an IRL version of Twitter.

A few tips:

Set Goals

What do you want to talk about? Make a list of topics you’d like to cover and the points of view you’d like to see represented.

  • Is there a problem facing your industry worth talking about?
  • How does the topic connect with your brand?
  • What will you do with this information after the show—will you post it on social media? Write a white paper?
  • Use insights to inform your marketing or sales strategy?

Consider the Invites Carefully

When people sit down for a face-to-face discussion, they have an opportunity that feels much more personal than what they’d experience listening to a lecture or watching a video.

As such, it’s essential to consider the roundtable in the same way you might plan a meal with a group—limit the number of participants to somewhere between 5-10 and pull in voices from a variety of backgrounds.

You may want to consider running a few sessions with different groups if multiple people are interested in participating.

Get a Strong Moderator on the Case

An active moderator can make or break the success of your roundtable experience.

Your moderator will keep the conversation from stagnating and will work to make sure there’s not one person hogging the entire discussion.

So, who should get the honor of wrangling in overeager debaters and long-winded droners?

Ask around for recommendations. If you’re working with influencers or sponsors, they might be up for helping out or can give you the name of someone else.

If you’re having trouble finding any takers, look at other events to see who was speaking on or moderating similar panels.

6. Set Up Private Networking Groups

Creating an online community can help create a better experience during the actual event. We recommend creating a gated community, either a closed social media group or an app-based community so attendees can jumpstart their networking process in… Click To Tweet

There are a few ways you can go about this. One, if you’re using an event app, you can build a private messaging function into the platform or forum discussions surrounding industry hot topics.

The other option is creating a group on LinkedIn or Facebook so people can connect and read the latest updates from your brand.

LinkedIn groups are great for B2B meetings, as they’re essentially a professional forum for people interested in the same industry topics as your company.

Not sure LinkedIn Groups are still relevant? Well, these days, there are 2 million active groups and people who engage in discussions on the platform receive an average of four times more profile views than members who don’t participate in the online dialog.

7. Build An In-Booth Networking Hub

Create a comfortable space for attendees to sit down and stay for a while. There are a few ways you can go about this. The first is to create a “living room” experience of sorts, a quiet refuge with comfortable furniture, WiFi, and plenty of outlets.

Or, you could do something like the Experience Cantina we created for Accenture–a show space designed for a more festive approach to networking. Consider hosting a networking cocktail hour or breakfast for some mixing and mingling.

Ahead of the show, offer blocked off time slots attendees can book for one-on-one meetings or schedule short meet-ups in advance.

Wrapping Up

The driving purpose of attending a trade show or putting on an event of your own is networking. By incorporating some of the above examples into your show strategy, your brand can position itself not only as a viable solution in the industry but a thought leader and valuable resource.

At Echelon Design, we build spaces that not only dazzle and inspire, but foster connections.

Engagement Benchmarks to Track Ahead of Your Next Event

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