by Brenna Adkins September 21st, 2023

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Time away from the office. Great food and drink. Informative sessions. Engaging off-site activities and entertainment. Inspirational speakers. There’s a lot for attendees to look forward to when it comes to thoughtfully planned corporate events. Whether sales meetings, incentive trips, product launches, trade shows, training sessions, or milestone celebrations, attendees look forward to all of those aspects, but one element of events stands out among the others – networking.

Networking is essential, but simply putting all of your attendees in a shared space isn’t enough. Incorporating networking activities can help create and build connections that might not happen under other circumstances, but event hosts should be creative when including them at corporate events.
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What Are Networking Activities?

If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you know that they traditionally involve simply putting attendees in the same room, potentially with drinks and hors d'oeuvres while they try to navigate networking themselves. If you’ve ever been to such an event, you know they aren’t always as effective as they might seem. In fact, often small groups form early, and few people explore beyond those groups. 

That’s where networking activities come in. They are organized (or loosely organized) activities that encourage participants to engage with one another and network with new people. They’re also designed to provide conversation starters to help participants create connections and overcome nerves.

Why Networking Activities Are Important at Corporate Events

For a variety of reasons, attendees at your corporate event may not have met or may not be familiar with one another. For most organizations, one corporate event goal is to create a space that allows both relationship building and collaboration between colleagues who may not typically have interactions in their day-to-day work.

This is especially true if you have multiple offices where co-workers have only met over Zoom or if your departments are isolated from one another. However, it’s really about more than introducing co-workers who may not interact regularly.

Benefits of networking activities at corporate events include:

  • Learning different aspects of a shared business
  • Exploring new ideas and opportunities for collaboration
  • Creating and strengthening connections to help build teams
  • Connecting teams with vendors, suppliers, and partners
  • Identifying mentor/mentorship opportunities
  • Discovering career paths and goals 
  • Brainstorming new ideas
  • Fostering feelings of belonging and engagement 

EXPLORE 22-1150 (1)Challenges to Networking Activities

“Not another icebreaker game…” Oftentimes, the biggest challenge to networking activities is the participants who are reluctant to engage. However, that reluctance is typically borne of a belief that the game or activity isn’t achieving its goal. As an event planner, it’s important to choose effective activities and to set some very clear expectations about what they will accomplish.

Additionally, a corporate event schedule can fill up quickly, leaving little time for activities deemed “lower priority” and often leaving attendees feeling overscheduled and overwhelmed. To address this issue, planners need to be cognizant of guests’ time while also working to carve out space in the schedule to allow connections to form – and don’t forget to include breaks along the way!

Another challenge to any networking activity is personal fears that many participants have. Social anxiety can bring with it feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness, so activities can and should be designed to help participants overcome these barriers.

Get Creative! Networking Activities for Your Next Corporate Event

We can all admit it – the same networking activities are used over and over again, and these repetitive activities become stale and monotonous. They make us tired. Remember, the goal of creating networking activities is to breathe life into these events and to create new relationships. We don’t want to trigger anxieties, and we certainly don’t want to trigger eye rolls, so here are a few ideas to keep networking fresh at your next corporate event.

1. Consider a “networking” rebrand 
Let’s face it. Many hear the word “networking” and cringe, so let’s rebrand. Same goals, different name. You can shift perspective and release some of the biases and preconceived notions your attendees have about networking. Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you call it a round table, idea exchange, mixer – just change it up a bit.

2. Try non-networking networking activities
What are networking sessions about? Creating connections, becoming familiar with others and their skills/talents, and learning about individual roles in a business – and none of those require a formal cocktail hour or meeting. Consider alternatives, such as ropes courses or other team competitions. Try incorporating ones that encourage problem solving and communication.

3. Add social components to fun, unique activities
You may already be trying to think of out-of-the-box activities to incorporate into your corporate event that will make your meeting stand out from the rest. Think puppy breaks, unique food tastings, or mini spa treatments (because who wouldn’t love that?!). These kinds of elements are excellent to include because they are so memorable, but they can also act as opportunities for attendees to connect with one another. Maybe attendees are asked to organize into small groups to discuss certain topics while playing with puppies? Tapping into fun opportunities that many will want to be involved in is a great way to build relationships while allowing people to feel as if they’re taking a break from regular sessions. 

4. Incorporate a theme
Tap into people’s creativity immediately and help them loosen their literal and figurative ties. If you can connect it to your corporate event theme as well, even better. There are unlimited opportunities for themes to utilize, such as sports, movies, places, decades, etc. This can act as a great conversation starter and can also help to think of unique ideas to leverage based on the theme selected.

5. Make it a game
Few things get people motivated quite like a little bit of competition. Create “networking” awards, such as people bingo, but get creative with the squares and bingo boards. You can do some that are related to the workplace or mix it up with other boxes related to personal achievements, hobbies, interests, skills, and more. Give an award for the person who meets the most people or one for the person who remembers the most facts about the people they meet. This is just one example of how you can increase engagement and unlock people’s competitive sides.
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6. Consider smaller groups
With more intimate groups, this allows you to truly do round tables, but it also lets you create a less intimidating space for many, especially introverts. Give each table a theme, a basket of questions (check out items like the Delve Deck), or other tools that help start conversations and grow connections.

7. Get seriously creative
Events that allow guests to explore their creative sides can really open them – and conversations – up. Whether it’s painting, ceramics, or some other kind of arts and crafts, allowing people to create and express themselves can generate some interesting conversations in an organic way. Sip and paint events are a great option.

8. Invite a speaker
A speaker at a networking event? Not only does it shift the focus off “networking” and lower the pressure some feel, but it also serves as a conversation starter for guests. Make sure your speaker knows the goal of the session, so there are several opportunities for discussion given to participants. If your speaker is good, your attendees may not even know they are networking.

9. Engage attendees early
If you’re utilizing an event app, this is a great opportunity to allow people to build connections before they even arrive at the meeting. Allow attendees to connect with and message people via app features. There are even tools that help with matchmaking based on interests, roles, and other information received during registration that can suggest who guests may want to connect with.

The common denominator among all of these activities is the goal to start a conversation – hopefully, one that generates new ideas, opportunities, or collaborative connections. By choosing creative ways to allow attendees to meet colleagues or other attendees, they begin to forge meaningful connections. In the end, those connections pay off for your organization.

If you’re ready for next-level networking at your corporate event, get in touch with the team at Bishop-McCann! We can help you get creative and get results.
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