I was a motivational speaker for a financial services conference where over 50% of the schedule was designated for networking.
The meeting planner clearly wanted delegates to be spending the time visiting with vendors, but instead people were sneaking away to their room to have a nap.
After awhile, even networking can become a drag. Normal people run out of things to say and artificially trying to inject small talk can wear you down. Studies indicate most people are introverts and networking is a very taxing thing. When it comes to slotting networking in your conference schedule there is no hard fast rules.
In contrast, I was a guest speaker at an insurance conference last week where again, loads of time was built into the schedule for networking- and yet it wasn't enough (we were in Florida after all and the pool was where most of the networking took place!).To solve this dilemma I suggest 3 considerations to Schedule Networking Breaks:
- Take a short break after the motivational keynote speaker and breakout sessions. Usually this time is not for networking. It is for moving bodies, bathroom breaks, room set up changes, and for people to check messages and deal with urgent issues. This break should be about 15 minutes. If it is too long, you risk people wandering off and not returning.
- Take a lunch break. Some meeting planners successfully build in an extra 30 minutes after lunch for people to network. If you want delegates to visit vendors, you have to direct them or give them a reason to go ( i.e.- have a draw or fun activity in the trade show area). Hosting lunch in the trade show venue is another way to draw in delegates.
- Encourage vendor participation at the keynote speaker and break out speaker sessions. This way networking can take place during the sessions, not just during breaks.
- Consider the audience. Some conferences thrive on networking and informal connections. If you are hosting an event with outspoken delegates, give them time to shine and interact with colleagues.
- On your post conference evaluation forms ask if the breaks were too short, too long or just right.
Finally take a step back and assess your schedule and see if breaks need to be tightened up or if you need to allow more time.