You Need A Meeting App: The REAL Value of Networking

 “Savvy conference attendees aren’t coming for more content. They’re coming to live events to make connections with like-minded people who will help them make sense of the content they’re drowning in.”

Sarah Michel, CSP
Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

Sarah Michel likes to call it “planned serendipity”.

“As meeting professionals we need to create opportunities for attendees to bump into like-minded people they don’t know yet–before, during and after the live event,” says Sarah Michel, a 15-year events industry veteran who specializes in speaking about networking at meetings. She has delivered over 800 live networking sessions from the main stage, and her focus is always on practicing what she preaches.

“I always have my audience interact with each other in a facilitated networking exercise,” Sarah says. “I’ve witnessed hundreds of people meet ‘exactly the person they were dying to meet’ or ‘have so much in common with’.”

Attendees want to network. Meeting planners are seeking the mix of connection and community that attendees are looking for–through a critical understanding of their audience’s needs, analysis of the sociological benefits of meetings, and traditional networking coaching technique combined with new tools like meeting apps and social media.

What’s A Network Worth?

You may have heard this before: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of jobs are found through a personal network. (If you’re skeptical, this guy did the research to figure out what that claim means.)

And networking is why we go to meetings and events. Meeting organizers are scheduling more time for breaks and toying with the format of traditional meet-and-greets specifically because we are asking for more opportunities to meet new people. The step planners are taking: using resources like a meeting app to make this happen at their event.

“The more you can capitalize on the power of ‘the strength of weak ties‘ and get people to break away from the friends and coworkers they see all the time, the more you’re actually helping them,” Sarah says. “Connecting attendees with new people only exposes them to new ideas, perspectives, attitudes and resources that will make them smarter.”

So what’s the urgency?

The sociological concept “accumulative advantage” was planted in the public’s consciousness with the release of Malcolm Gladwell’s book bestselling 2008 book Outliers. Accumulative advantage is when a small advantage early on can snowball into greater benefits over time. The kitten who gets the most milk in infancy will get more milk overall and grow to be the biggest. The smartest kindergartener will get the most attention from teachers, will be placed in better classes, and will grow up with a better education overall. (It’s kind of the opposite of being the runt of the litter!)

If benefits early can turn into magnified rewards over time, consider the value of developing a strong personal network right now!

So let’s learn how to turn your meeting attendees into the strongest kittens. How can you break outside the normal routine, deliver tanglible value, and use audience insight and a meeting app to build new, real constructs for networking at meetings?

Redefine Your Role As Meeting Planner

Meeting planners are exhausted and overworked, and can fall into old habits. It’s not that the meetings you’ve been hosting forever aren’t effective at delivering information. The problem is that meeting attendees expect more than just good content.

“Meeting planners HAVE to realize their job has transformed. They’ve become community organizers,” says Sarah. To grow attendee loyalty and give attendees what they want–community and connections–you must now deliver on the contemporary promise of the networking meeting.

“I’ve seen people forgive meetings with bad food, cold rooms and poor AV if there are great networking opportunities baked into the overall design of the meeting. That’s what everyone wants.”

Combine New Tech with Old-School Technique

In Sarah’s keynotes and meeting networking exercises, she uses simple devices to push attendees to move throughout the space and meet someone new. It can be something as simple as handing out dominoes and asking the audience to “connect the dots”.

At another event, Sarah asked a group from a specific session to write things they learned on sticky notes, then stick them up in the dining area. Later, various groups being served food could read peer-written notes from various sessions, whether they’d attended them or not.

These analog connection devices, however, are more effective when layered with the networking tools we use all day at work: our mobile devices, social media, web forums and video conferencing.

In your meetings, use simple techniques to get the audience moving and meeting new people. Before this happens, though, set the stage by promoting connections long before the meeting.

What if you found a sticky note written by someone you connected with online before the conference? How much more impact would that have?

Empower Networking Even Before Attendees Register

Extend the lifetime of your meetings using targeted messages to segmented groups within the larger audience. Reach out on social media, give access to the mobile meeting app before the event, and support the process with continued instruction and encouragement.

Sarah’s tips for a longer lifecycle of networking meetings:

  • Use a mobile-to-web meeting app that your attendees can access on all devices and can use before the event starts.
  • Offer ways to connect like-minded people before they get to the event. Let them know who is same geographic area, who has similar jobs, or who has the same interests and hobbies.
  • Allow registrants to make to-do lists and sign up for individual sessions.
  • Ask questions. Provoke pre-meeting conversations. Ask, “What keeps you up at night about your job?”. Create a board where people can post and start helping each other.
  • Offer virtual hangouts like Google where people can see each other on camera so when they get onsite they already know each other.

Use all the features of your meeting app

“If you’re just using the meeting app to do a virtual display of your brochure, what a waste of money!” Sarah said. “If your attendees are only using your app to see the schedule, you’re adoption rate will never go above 50%.”

Sarah’s tips for getting the most out of your meeting app:

Make it easy for users to connect and exchange contact info, participate on social networks, and to find their way around the hotel/convention center.

Looking for ways to add more valuable meeting app content? Think of all the things people ask at a conference registration or help desk. Then work on how to answer all the top needs/questions/desires with your meeting app.

Integrate your live networking techniques into the features of the meeting app. Use the shared photo feature to snap the sticky notes in the lunch area. Have your audience exchange contact cards with others in their discussion groups.

Ask for feedback in real-time. Your meeting app can gather feedback about the event, the sessions and the networking they’re experiencing right there.

Encourage users to export the personal notes they’ve taken in the app. When the event has ended, attendees want reasons to recall and use information and the connections they’ve made.

“If your attendees complain or rate a conference experience poorly, it’s because they didn’t meet people and the conference did not deliver on its networking promise.”

Watch the video below to see Sarah talk about turning meeting networking on its head.

More About The New Breed of Networking Meetings

We loved learning about the evolution of networking, and we think you will, too. Check out these resources Sarah Michel recommends.

[eBook] Conference Connexity
Velvet Chainsaw Blog
Sarah Michel’s website, Perfecting Connecting
Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman
Connected by Dr Nicholas Christakis
Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

If you want to extend the lifetime of your meetings and give attendees what they want, the first step is to build a meeting app. You can do it here for free.

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