Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tips for Association Networking Sessions

This is final instalment in the series on Networking, as written by Dana Cooper, MBA, CAE (Executive Director, Orthotics Prosthetics Canada)

Too often I see events that are intended to be networking events, but establish barriers for effective networking.  There are many things associations can do to facilitate networking.  A few are shared here:

  • Ditch the chairs!  Networking is about circulating and meeting as many people as possible to find those nuggets of value.  It is increasingly difficult to do this in a group of four to six others seated at the same table.  If chairs are necessary, put them around the side of the rooms for people to have more in-depth discussions and pay homage to the smartphone gods.
  • Environment is critical.  Choose a location that contributes to low volume conversations and the circulation of people.  Participants will need to manage the food and beverage that will be part of the evening, so include high table and tools to help them stand and circulate.
  • Names are important.  Help people remember or get to know names, positions and organizations.  Much of what will be discussed will relate to professions.  Provide context to those conversations by providing name badges with names, positions and organization name.
  • Facilitate personal connections.  You can facilitate incorporating personal connections into the events in a number of ways.  You can include a networking activity to find out information on others, or at the beginning of the event, ask questions of the crowd so that people can see others that may have similar interests.  Who likes to ski?  Who play an instrument?  Who has children under 10?  These are door openers to communication and immediately break down barriers and create connections.
Networking is one of the most valuable activities for your members and for your organization in terms of the member value proposition.  That value comes from making the connections that your association was created to facilitate.

With peer networking, there is very little risk and potential significant reward.  It should be enjoyable!  By being there, the only commitment participants should have is to enjoy themselves and come with the intent of helping others and being helped.  

Your association needs to be strategic about how it structures its networking events to facilitate the creation and realization of value for your members.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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