Exhibitions present many opportunities for exhibitors and attendees to meet new people and build their network. Sales is often seen as the most important prospect an expo offers, but without being able to interact with possible customers and other businesses, your exhibitors and attendees won’t have the chance to close these sales.
As exhibition organisers, it’s your role to ensure everyone visiting your expo is able to have a worthwhile experience by making these opportunities to connect easily available. Hosting networking events and activities can encourage your visitors to build connections. It also increases the appeal of attending or exhibiting at your expo if you are able to offer exclusive networking events.
For exhibitors, networking is the key to spreading their brand awareness and promoting their services. They rely on strong communication to sell their products or services to their target market. For attendees, networking presents an opportunity to meet with other attendees who share similar interests and match them with exhibitors who can solve their needs. Networking is far too important for the overall success of your expo to ignore it.
Firstly, it’s important to note that networking activities and events can be both unstructured or structured, and you need to decide which is going to work best for your event. Having an unstructured event allows for more flexibility and for attendees to have full control over who they interact with. However, a lack of structure means attendees need to be more proactive which can be difficult for some, especially those who are new to expos. Structured networking events and activities provide more guidance and motivation for your visitors to step out of their comfort zone to meet new people.
95% of people say that meeting face-to-face is essential for building long-term business relationships, so networking events and activities is the perfect place to start. There are a few ways you can plan these, but here are some of our favourite ways you can introduce networking opportunities to your expo.
Technology and Apps
Technology is a simple and effective tool for building connections. There are many event apps and software’s available that allow attendees and exhibitors to create online profiles and digital business cards that they can share on the app along with other users. By promoting an app like this at your event you can encourage people to connect with each other. Often the biggest hurdle in the way of networking is fear and shyness but moving this interaction online or on an app makes it much easier. There are also apps that can match attendees with exhibitors based on what their interests and goals are.
Events and Activities
When organising your expo, consider allocating networking events for exhibitors and attendees to attend at the beginning or before the expo. Unlike apps and software, networking events allow people to engage face-to-face and make more personal connections. Yes, these can be daunting. But once you add some food, entertainment and cocktails, this business event becomes a fun experience.
Speed networking – this works similarly to speed dating. It’s an efficient way to attendees to interact with the maximum number of people. Have half of your guests sit in rows or a circle around the room and the other half move from chair to chair until everyone has networked with each other.
Mix and mingle – this is the most common type of networking that takes place at expos. A mix and mingle can be anything from a cocktail mixer to a coffee break during the expo. This allows guests to freely interact with whom they please and is usually unstructured.
Competitive networking – introducing a friendly competition to your networking event can encourage your attendees or exhibitors to proactively build connections with others. Competitive networking begins when your guests arrive, are placed into teams and allocated a series of tasks to complete. These can be to speak to particular suppliers or exhibitors within a timeslot. There are a number of different ways you can structure this form of networking, but still create a fun event.
Storytelling – in this activity attendees will be asked to prepare a short story based on a topic question, such as “How did your first job get you to where you are now?” and share this within small groups. This is a great way to have your visitors meet new people, but also hear experiences that can help them with their own journey.
Coffee break assignments – giving your attendees a little challenge to complete whilst on coffee or lunch breaks is a simple way to motivate them to interact with new people. Assign attendees and exhibitors tasks to talk to someone new, or hear a new story, or collect three business cards on their breaks.
Targeted connections - to have your attendees’ network in a more structured way, you can give attendees a personalised list of other attendees or exhibitors they should connect with based on common interests, values and goals. You can collate this data from your event registration and through qualifying your attendees. This method will help you guarantee that your attendees are interacting with people who lead to a beneficial experience for them.
The layout of your expo can play a huge role in the networking ability of your guests. If you don’t allocate space for tables or chairs, then your attendees won’t have somewhere to sit and interact.
Introducing round tables into your expo space is a simple but effective way to encourage communication. In coffee and lunch break areas, replace your typical rectangular table with smaller and large round tables. This is a great way to help attendees have meaningful conversations and build connections based on their shared interests.
Networking is just one component of the big picture. The key to planning a successful expo is planning and organising. This expo checklist will help you transform your next event into a success. To get started on your exhibition stand, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.