You walk into a ballroom and you hear laughter and voices from hundreds of conversations happening around you. You know no one. You alternate between awkwardly looking at your phone and scanning the room looking for a familiar face so you don’t feel so alone. It seems like everyone is talking to people they came with or already knew, and you can’t find a way to break into the conversation. If you’ve never felt this, lucky you! But for the rest of us, this “awkward ballroom moment” is probably a little too familiar.
Recently, leadership author Adam Grant wrote an article about the idea of shared experiences that spark joy or collective effervescence. It captured the essence of what events should be about - “They didn’t just find collective effervescence in the shallow fun of frivolous activities; they also forged it in the deep fun of creating together and solving problems together.’
If events are supposed to create impact, change, and collective effervescence, attendees have to be at their best and feel comfortable to engage. It's time we stop leaving quality connections up to chance. Hoping that the snacks, an open bar, or loud music will drown out any ballroom awkwardness is a bad game plan. As event planners we need to be intentional about our event design, and prioritize the comfort, safety, and psychological safety of our attendees. And all of this can start before your event.
Why Pre-Event Networking?
Through the use of emerging event technology, events are no longer limited to the 2-3 days of being together on-site. Organizers now have many ways to engage with attendees outside the confines of the event. So why not start your event before it even starts?
As an #eventprof who is guilty of planning lazy networking receptions where you hope attendees just organically connect on-site, but more importantly, as an attendee of these awkward events, the idea of using technology to power pre-event networking and connection excites me to no end.
Here’s 4 of the top reasons to design pre-event connection for your attendees:
We all know the dreaded stat that approximately 50% of your virtual event registrants are going to no-show the day of your event. It’s frustrating to put in all the work to create an experience for 200 people and then have only 50-75 show up. When attendees are given a chance to participate in a pre-event networking session, we see a lower no-show rate; once they’ve invested in building relationships, they are more likely to show up on the day of the event. Give them an opportunity to commit early and they’ll buy in.
2. Attendee Engagement
How an attendee experiences and contributes to an event is heavily influenced by how comfortable they feel in the spaces that organizers have designed. Whether this is in-person or virtual, the more connected attendees are to the event and community of fellow attendees, the more engaged they will be. When an attendee has had a chance to make connections before the event, we typically see more messages exchanged in the chat, more questions addressed to the speakers (extra bonus if your speakers participate in the pre-event networking), and more interaction not just with the event organizers, but among the attendees.
“By allowing our TechsyTalk Fast Lane attendees to connect with each other on twine the day before our event, we were able to generate a sense of camaraderie, community, and familiarity with our audience before it even started. During the event, attendees were conversing with each other in the chat and it felt like a reunion of friendly faces rather than a cold virtual room of strangers. We definitely saw greater engagement during the event because we had connected everyone beforehand”. - Liz (King) Caruso, Founder, TechsyTalk
3. Safety & Belonging
Humans want to belong, it is in our innate nature to want to find community, peers, and a group to be part of. The “awkward ballroom” moment we described above is an attendee’s worst fear when they hear “networking reception” at your event. By creating a safe space for your community to start forming connections before the event, you alleviate the stress of being a “singleton” when your attendee arrives; which is especially stressful for women. A study conducted by PCMA found that up to 45% of female attendees have felt harassed at an event before, so the importance of knowing even just one person in the room before they arrive will make the experience feel safer and more comfortable.
“It is really hard not to have a buddy to hang with. Everyone assumes you have someone to dine with or go to the evening social events with. I am good in a small crowd, but I become a wallflower in a large crowd and often just leave.” - Michele Gebrayel, DuCharme, McMillen & Associates
Now that content can be consumed on-demand and attendees just want to talk to one another, one of the greatest marketing assets your event has is who else will be in attendance. How often do you see an attendee post something saying “Who else is going to this event?” or “Who am I going to see in Vegas?” as a way to build some connection before the event. This is about wanting to know that they’re in the right room, with the right people.
Our friends at Untethered are hosting “open” pre-event networking sessions before their big hybrid event. These events are open to anyone and allow people who are considering their event to come and meet with registered attendees - to see who else will be there. Offering your prospective attendee a low-investment opportunity like a pre-event networking event to engage with your brand and confirmed attendees might be the final push they need to register for the event.
We know that the marketplace for attendee’s attention is only going to get busier and more saturated so if you’re going to step foot in the ring and compete for attendees, starting your event before your event is an easy and effective way to build commitment and engagement with your brand early and often.
Want to learn more about powering a pre-event networking session for your event? You’ve come to the right place! Even better, if you want to see pre-event networking in action, join us for the Untethered twine Talks event, powered by twine, on August 18, 2021. The event is open to everyone and you can register here.
If you want to chat about pre-event networking, or how to increase engagement and connection at your event, book a time to chat with Anh here.
Anh Nguyen is the Head of Community Engagement at twine.