What would make a normally sane person leave their secure and predictable routine, fly to another city (or country) and voluntary sit for days in meeting after meeting? A good meal, a legitimate excuse to duck family responsibility or the possibility that you might meet a person that could revolutionise your life. For me, probably none of the above. What takes me away from home is the opportunity to meet a bunch of similarly minded delegates, to talk, share ideas and practice. Strangers at conference are less strange because they share the same interests as you do. It’s an optical delusion though. This atmosphere of ambient intimacy that has been created around this temporary community will probably vanish, until we meet again at another conference. It does not have to be this way though. Conference organisers, caught in the rush of the urgent, sometimes neglect to include in the programme networking opportunities. Below are 12 points to consider when organising a conference that would enhance nodes (like me) networking capacity.
Before the conference
1. You have a hidden audience.
Remember to include people that could not physically attend the event. Think about ways in which they could participate
2. Like and Retweet
Create a Facebook and/or Twitter account for the conference and ensure that a Facebook “like” button or a Twitter “retweet” button appears on your conference web page.
3. Let’s play tag
Select a conference tag and ask that when speakers post resources that pertain to their presentation on their blog, Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Facebook that they also use this tag.
Number the tables and suggest that delegates arrange a Tweetup – put real faces to avatars – at a selected table number at a certain time
5. Network Weaving
Supply delegates with speakers Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook profiles
During the conference
6. Expand the four walls of your conference venue
Take and upload photos to a conference page, live blog the proceedings, record or stream the keynote presentation
7. Get them talking
Ensure that the key note speaker’s presentation has a tea break scheduled right after so that the delegates can discuss what was said.
8. Ride the backchannel
Delegates are passing notes electronically, probably using the conference tag as a hashtag (if they are on Twwitter). Project the backchannel onto a screen during the conference
9. Hotspots Help
Ensure that WiFi is available and that delegates can login without too many hurdles
After the conference
10. Delegates Directory
Send an email to all delegates thanking them for attending and informing them of a conference attendees directory
11. Sharing is caring
If speakers presentations were not available on the web before the conference, ensure that they are available after the conference
12. Continue the conversation
A conference Facebook account or Twitter account need to fade into oblivion immediately after the conference. Use these tools to elicit thoughts, ideas etc from speakers and delegates.