A New Approach To Improve Networking at Conferences
A new research gives fresh insights to improve attendee networking at meetings and conferences. Learn all about it here.
I just learned (thanks to Silvia Malesardi) about a piece of research published 2 days ago that looks at techniques to improve the networking experience at events.
I could not wait to write about it. I usually research academic articles for fresh research that impacts new meeting formats and technology, but I am often disappointed.
Therefore I could not miss the opportunity to let you know about this very easy to understand research which comes with a repository on GitHub for those that want to try it out.
What Is It?
The research is called ‘Cutting edge: A network approach to mixing delegates at meetings’ and was carried by Federico Vaggi, Tommaso Schiavinotto, Jonathan LD Lawson, Anatole Chessel, James Dodgson, Marco Geymonat, Masamitsu Sato, Rafael Edgardo Carazo Salas, Attila Csikász-Nagy from several universities and foundations in Italy and the UK.
Essentially the paper is about how a group of scientists used science to improve collaboration among attendees of a scientific meeting.
The methods (I’ll cover them in depth in the next sections) involved speed dating and playing with degrees of separation, the result was 87.5% of attendees being very enthusiastic about the event.
Collaboration is essential for scientific meetings. Getting attendees to know each other leads to research collaborations. And research is what makes science better. Hence why a group of researchers got together to find the best way to match attendees and foster collaboration.
Needless to say that this is a universal objective of meetings and conferences, regardless of the topic. Networking is often reason number one why delegates attend and the need for Connexity is alive and kicking.
Simply put, the goals were two, to introduce people who would not traditionally meet and to optimize the way attendees meet potential collaborators for projects.
Researchers asked a few questions before the event aimed at understanding competency/skills and degrees of separation.
They chose speed dating as the format, which makes me giggle, but actually turned out to be effective thanks to its fast pace.
I will not get into details, as you can read them yourself in the paper, but here are the highlights:
- They started with 5 meetings matching those who never worked together who had different skill sets. Adding constraints to force new meetings at each stage.
- In subsequent meetings, they forced junior/senior meetings
- The first phase was aimed at stimulating serendipity, going outside one’s comfort zone to find new opportunities. The second phase was specifically targeted to stimulate collaborations.
Here are the results:
[..] of the 24 delegates who commented [...] in the post-meeting questionnaire, 21 (87.5%) were very enthusiastic and complimentary, and 12 mentioned that potential new collaborations were emerging from discussions at the meeting.
The code to match attendees was subsequently released on GitHub (which is incredibly awesome)
Possibly this experiment alone is too little to completely revolutionise networking at your events.
Yet there are learnings we can apply straight ahead:
- Engaging with attendees before the event, learning more about their skills and connection to other attendees is key. This is often facilitated by networking apps and platforms.
- Identifying unconventional ways of matching attendees, stimulates the audience to actually engage. The use of speed dating and the lack of common skills where instrumental in driving satisfaction rates up.
- Keeping those that know each other apart. Mixing the room as much as possible helped to avoid that ‘I meet always the same people’ feeling
- Matching experts with juniors makes sense. In a scientific environment the result could be collaborations, in a business environment it could be more business deals or more project opportunities.
- Leverage technology better. Several networking applications and platforms do offer most of the functionality to understand skills and degrees of separation. Talk to your app provider and ask how they can help to implement unconventional networking environments.
I urge you to read the research paper to get a thorough idea of the techniques implemented but also the limitations of the approach.
Stimulating your audience to meet new peers and matching the expert with the non-expert leads to more effective and satisfactory meeting experiences.
This is what the conference of the present should look like, now go for it!