Many people are ill-at-ease with the thought of networking and interacting with new people at conferences and events. Use (and publicize!) some of these ideas to make the experience easier and more inclusive for everyone.
- Name tags
One fear of attendees is that they will run into someone and not remember their name. Name tags take away this anxiety and put everyone on the same playing field. Adding a “fun” line to them such as where the attendee was born, favorite cartoon, or other fun fact adds an easy prompt to get a conversation started.
There’s nothing worse than checking in at registration and then looking at a sea of people and not knowing where to start! A friendly greeter can ease this segue by introducing themselves, finding out something about the guest and then introducing them to a nearby group with similar interests.
Design your agenda with multiple parts. It might begin with open networking and then move to small groups for introductions, break for a speaker or entertainment, and then finish with a one on one discussion about the session topic. Giving participants a framework lets those who find one style difficult know that there will be other times with a format more aligned with their personality.
- Down time
Plan respites from talking during your event. Entertainment and speakers can provide low interaction periods where introverts and extroverts alike can catch their breath and focus on enjoying the experience.
At loud concerts, quiet rooms with soft furnishings and a mellow melody are always a draw for anyone needing a rest for their ears and senses.
- Theme signage
Events centered around a theme can be great for pulling otherwise quiet folk out of their comfort zone by focusing on something fun and different. Signage throughout the event that describes the theme and pulls out unique facts can offer a moment for attendees to be ok standing alone and reading. It also allows everyone to be “in” on the details, whether they previously knew anything about the topic or not. For example with a Marvel Comics theme you could include the backstory of a prominent character, how the décor reflects the story, facts about the Marvel universe, and how the theme relates to the event. After one event where I used this technique, attendees remarked that now they would be able to go home and impress their kids with their new knowledge!
Inclusion planning not only helps those who struggle with networking, but adds dimension and interest for all attendees. What are the ways you can incorporate more inclusive programming in your next event?
For more ideas on how you can plan for inclusion email me at firstname.lastname@example.org