As garden communicators, we attend conferences, flower and garden shows, and other industry meetups for a number of different reasons — to learn about trends, to order products, to become more educated about various aspects of running a horticulture business, or to hear some notable people speak. But one of the most valuable features of any industry gathering is the ability to network with other professionals.
At horticulture events around the country, you’ll meet publishers, growers, garden center owners, speakers, authors, bloggers, and more. As program managers, it’s a great idea to build in ways for people to network in a more deliberate way than, say, chasing someone down in a hotel hallway or hoping to run into them on a garden tour. (The latter is actually how GOW team member Jenny met her writing hero at a GardenComm conference, but that’s a story for another time.)
Education and knowledge are, of course, essential takeaways from any industry event. But the relationships formed and the connections made are invaluable and will keep attendees coming back.
How to Add Networking into Your Event
Events are equal parts education and hospitality, so let’s take a look at how you can create memorable networking opportunities for your attendees so they feel comfortable and engaged.
- Create a gated, pre-event online community. Once your attendees have registered for the event, allow them access to an online community to meet other attendees. Do a random “introduction of the day” or post thought-provoking questions. It’s all about creating that buzz ahead of time so your attendees hit the ground running when they arrive in person.
- Have a pre-event social hour for newbies. It’s intimidating to attend an event or conference for the first time where you’re not likely to know many people. Have a time and place for first-timers to come and meet each other to take the edge off. Include a few veteran attendees to welcome and introduce people around.
- Host a happy hour. There’s nothing like a little cocktail and party scene to loosen people up! Happy hours can be at the end of the first day or anytime it makes sense, but be sure to have non-alcoholic beverages as well as a few nibbles on hand.
- Create a social lounge. The social lounge is where people can pop in in-between activities to chill, relax, and meet new people. Arrange seating in hubs so it’s comfortable and intimate.
- Host speed networking. Yep, it’s just like it sounds. Create sessions of like-minded people (publishers and authors, for example) and set up stations where participants meet for a designated amount of time before moving on to the next person in the lineup.
- Encourage staff/volunteers to be on the lookout for loners. We understand that some people want to be alone and they prefer to move through the event in that manner, but for others it can be difficult to make connections when you want to but don’t know anyone. Your event staff can be aware and guide a solitary person to the coffee station, greet them, or introduce them to someone else.