I saw a post on Facebook the other day about The Hokey Pokey (I’ll pause while you start dancing!). While it did recall images of silly Hokey Pokey sessions in elementary school and at kids’ parties, the last line of each chorus “and that’s what it’s all about” drew me back to meetings. What is it all about? Why do we meet? Why do attendees want to come? In my local chapter of MPI (and probably in many other chapters/associations), we ask attendees to rank the following reasons for attending an educational program – location, speaker/content, networking. Which of these three do you think comes out on top? Networking comes in a close second to content overall, but some months it is #1. What is networking and why do attendees crave it?
According to Webster, networking is defined as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business” (the underlining is mine). So, when we network, we connect, we learn, we grow. This can be done on the phone or online, but the real “magic” happens in person. The initial connection can be made virtually, but when you shake someone’s hand and get to see their expressions and body language that connection moves to the next level. People meet to discuss ideas, to expand their knowledge base and to grow their community. Sometimes the best learning occurs outside the breakout session, when attendees can discuss what they just heard over coffee, lunch or during a reception. Getting a different perspective sometimes reinforces a concept or challenges you to view it in another way. Creating spaces and times for your attendees to network formally and informally can (and will!) boost satisfaction scores. Think about it – would you rather be cooped up at a conference all day in a succession of 60-90 minute sessions set traditionally (read theater-style or schoolroom) with minimal breaks OR would you rather have shorter sessions with seating that encourages movement and interaction and longer breaks that inspire you to meet new people and explore the venue?
Next time you are planning your meeting, stop and think about the WHY – why are you meeting? Then, think about HOW you can facilitate the networking process. Extend your breaks, vary their location, use an App to help schedule connections before and during your event, game-ify it, make it fun & memorable. Be creative. Who knows, maybe throw in a game of Hokey Pokey – ‘cause that’s what it’s all about!