But if networking is one of your association’s biggest value propositions, that clearly presents a problem. How can you make networking a little less intimidating for your members so they’ll be more likely to register for and attend events? Here are a few tips:
1. Be strategic about your space and room layout
Space can play a huge factor in the ease (or difficulty) of networking. Think about it from your members’ point of view. If a member, particularly a new member, walks into a huge room FULL of people, and they’re expected to just approach someone, well...cue the quick getaway! That can be incredibly intimidating (unless you have some kind of icebreaker laid out, which we’ll get to next).
To reduce that level of fear, get creative with the space you’re using. It’s completely fine if the event is in one large room, but try adding in tables with a fairly small number of seats at each. (It’s much easier to walk up to a table and ask if a seat is taken than it is to walk up to a group of people who are standing in a circle, already engaged in conversation.)
Or, if it’s not really a table kind of event, try utilizing a few couches. Or cocktail-style tables, even. There are many ways you can approach this, but the point here is this: If you give people a space to occupy, they’ll feel much more comfortable going into that space.
2. Provide icebreakers
Icebreakers get a bad rap, but hear us out: If you’re thoughtful about what icebreakers you use (in other words, what icebreakers your members will respond well to), they can be GREAT conversation starters.
One type of icebreaker to consider: games! Let’s say you do have a large, open room. Well a good way to divide that space could be with games - giant Jenga, giant Connect Four, cornhole, etc. This gives people different “stations” to check out (so they’re not tied to one table, for example), and equips them with something to talk about once they get there.
Another type of icebreaker that could work: playful name tags. Rather than taking the standard approach to name tags, make it a little fun by having attendees write out a fun fact about themselves. (“I bungee jumped in South Africa!” for example.) This instantly gives your members something to talk about when they first approach someone - and that’s a HUGE help.
3. Recruit and introduce table hosts
If the event you’re hosting does have tables, consider recruiting and introducing table hosts. These could be volunteers, long-term members, staff members, etc. But regardless who your table hosts are, they’d be responsible for initiating conversation at the table. Asking everyone to share their name, occupation, whether or not this is their first event, etc. They’d also have a few fun questions to throw out. For example, “What’s your favorite movie?” This takes the pressure of initiating conversation off the attendee, but at the same time, enables the attendee to build connections and reap value from the event.
Sure, networking isn’t easy, but it’s necessary and something your association should continue to provide. It’s a great way to engage your members AND add value (a win-win for everyone).
And speaking of engagement, if that’s something your association seems to be struggling with, check out our free guide, Membership Engagement for Small-Staff Associations, below. In it, you’ll find best practices for engaging your organization’s membership via your website, email, social media, and more!