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Strategies for Making Networking Events Less Awkward

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Networking events play a pivotal role in the professional world, providing a platform for individuals to connect, share insights, and forge valuable relationships. However, amidst the anticipation and enthusiasm, one common challenge lingers: the discomfort and awkwardness that can permeate these events. 

Attendee awkwardness can cast a shadow over an otherwise valuable networking experience. It can hinder conversations, impede authentic connections, and undermine the overall productivity of the event. Recognizing and addressing this challenge is essential for creating an inclusive and nurturing networking environment. 

In this blog, we will explore strategies and practical tips to make networking events more comfortable and engaging for attendees.  

Design the Event Space to Encourage Mingling and Conversation 

The layout and design of the event space can play a significant role in reducing attendee awkwardness. Consider arranging the space in a way that encourages mingling and conversation. Avoid having large, intimidating tables or barriers that may hinder natural interactions. Instead, opt for open spaces with smaller seating areas or standing tables where individuals can easily approach and engage with one another. 

Additionally, strategically placing food and beverage stations throughout the venue can create natural gathering points, encouraging attendees to strike up conversations while grabbing a drink or a bite to eat. Creating cozy lounges or designated networking areas with comfortable seating can also provide a more relaxed and inviting atmosphere, making it easier for attendees to connect with one another. 

Pictured Above: The 2023 Sponsorship Marketing Awards

Provide Name Tags With Clear and Legible Information 

Name tags are a simple yet effective tool for making networking events less awkward. By providing attendees with name tags, you enable them to easily identify and address one another, eliminating the initial uncertainty of approaching a stranger. 

Ensure that the name tags are clear and legible, with large fonts and easily identifiable information. Consider including not just the attendee’s name, but also their company or profession, which can provide icebreaker topics for conversation. Providing different colour-coded name tags for attendees from different industries or areas of expertise can also facilitate targeted networking and encourage more meaningful conversations. 

Pictured Above: Our Team at the 2023 NAIOP Development Challenge

Offer Icebreaker Activities or Games to Facilitate Initial Introductions 

Icebreaker activities or games can be an invaluable tool for breaking the ice and initiating conversations among attendees. These activities can range from simple exercises like group discussions or partnering up to answer thought-provoking questions, to more interactive games such as scavenger hunts or trivia quizzes related to the event theme. 

Icebreaker activities not only help attendees relax and feel more comfortable, but they also provide a shared experience that naturally sparks conversation and builds camaraderie. By providing structured opportunities for attendees to interact in a lighthearted and fun manner, you set the stage for more meaningful connections to form throughout the event. 

Plan Structured Networking Activities or Speed Networking Sessions 

Structured networking activities, such as round-robin discussions or group exercises, can be an effective way to bring attendees together in a low-stress environment. These activities can be designed to encourage attendees to connect with one another while providing clear guidelines to facilitate conversation. By incorporating different types of activities throughout the event, attendees can meet multiple individuals and explore potential collaborations or partnerships. 

Speed networking sessions can also be an excellent option for facilitating connections and breaking the ice. During these sessions, attendees are paired up and given a set amount of time to introduce themselves and share a bit about their background and interests before rotating to meet new individuals. This format can be especially useful for attendees who may have difficulty initiating conversations.  

Pictured Above: Our Team at the 2023 Real Property National Workshop

Encourage Diversity and Inclusivity Among Attendees 

Networking events should strive to attract a diverse range of attendees, including individuals from different backgrounds, industries, and levels of experience. Actively promote inclusivity by reaching out to diverse communities, professional organizations, and affinity groups when inviting attendees. This outreach can help ensure that the event represents a wide range of perspectives and experiences, making conversations more interesting and opportunities for connection more abundant. 

Furthermore, when promoting the event, emphasize that it is open and welcoming to everyone. Expressly state that attendees of all backgrounds, genders, ages, and abilities are encouraged to participate. When attendees see that an event embraces diversity and inclusivity, they will feel more comfortable engaging and networking with others. 

Offer Designated Networking Areas for Specific Industries or Interests 

To enhance the effectiveness of networking, consider creating designated areas or zones where attendees with shared interests or from specific industries can connect more easily. These areas can be denoted with signage or colour-coded sections within the event space. By providing targeted networking spaces, attendees can engage in conversations that are more relevant to their professional interests, facilitating meaningful connections and discussions. 

Pictured Above: 2023 NAIOP Rex Awards. Learn more about our branding strategy for this event here.

Offer On-Site Support 

Having dedicated event staff or friendly volunteers available can make a significant difference in helping attendees feel more comfortable and connected. Staff members can circulate the event space, making introductions, and facilitating conversations among attendees. They can also provide guidance on how to navigate the event and help with any specific networking challenges or requests. 

When approaching attendees, event staff can help break the ice by providing common talking points based on attendees’ interests, industries, or shared experiences. This extra support can go a long way in reducing awkwardness and fostering meaningful connections. 

Wrapping It Up… 

Event organizers have the power to shape the atmosphere and alleviate the awkwardness, making networking events more enjoyable and productive for attendees. By implementing strategies such as encouraging diversity and inclusivity, creating designated networking areas, offering on-site support, and gamifying the experience, organizers can create a more welcoming and enriching environment. 

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