March 04, 2024
By Mike Fletcher

Why do delegates attend your events? It’s not just about your education programme; many will see your event as an opportunity to network and build relationships in person. 

But how can you ensure your attendees have ample opportunities to expand their network and make lasting connections?

Read on to learn the key elements that make a networking event successful and seven expert tips to ensure your networking events stand out.

What are networking events?

Networking events are organised gatherings aimed at fostering professional and business relationships. They allow your attendees to exchange ideas, broaden their connections and discover new opportunities.

They can be part of your larger conference or exhibition, or a stand-alone event, to keep your community engaged. 

They can also take various forms, such as a drinks reception, dinner, breakfast meeting or speed networking, and often only run for a few hours.

According to the 2024 Freeman Trends Report, attendees view networking as most valuable when they can speak with industry experts (81%), meet new contacts (68%) and exchange ideas with peers (64%).

What makes a great networking event? 

A great networking experience should provide your guests with the best possible environment to meet new contacts, develop new relationships, and facilitate business growth. The best networking events are relaxed affairs, which allow attendees the time and space to interact and engage with each other. 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t include presentations or learning opportunities - after all, the more reasons to attend, the better. Still, these should be secondary objectives and shouldn’t derail your attendees’ ability to meet and talk with their peers. 

To guarantee a great networking event, create a programme encouraging your attendees to engage, converse, and connect. Consider elements that will help facilitate this, such as:

  • Choice of venue
  • The food and drink 
  • How food is served
  • Technology to facilitate connections 
  • Incentives and ice-breakers to encourage conversation 
  • Entertainment that will keep the conversation going
  • Follow up with guests
Tips for event networking

7 tips to create memorable networking events

1. Make your venue the star attraction

The venue is often the main draw and a key talking point to start any conversation. So opt for somewhere unique, opulent, instagrammable, or somewhere with amazing rooftop views. 

You could book a luxury hotel that’s newly opened to guarantee somewhere that your attendees won’t have been before. Or you could give your guests a unique experience by taking them behind the scenes with a private after-hours view of an exhibition or a stadium tour. 

Remember to source a venue with enough capacity to allow guests space to wander and mingle. If you plan to incorporate speeches or a short presentation, talk to the venue about its audio-visual solutions. 

“I try and choose venues that complement the time of year, so a roof terrace for summer and an opulent hotel or cosy basement bar for more Christmasy and winter vibes.” 

Charlotte Olivencia, Assistant Team Lead, Marketing Europe, Cvent

2. Keep your guests fed and watered

All that talking will make your guests thirsty, so ensure there are plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available. 

At other types of events, you may decide to only offer guests a welcome drink on arrival. But with gatherings specifically designed to encourage relaxed networking, you should keep the free drinks flowing. 

“If you’re considering serving cocktails, make sure there’s enough pre-made in advance. It’s often better to have a separate area to serve beer and wine, otherwise, the bar gets crowded quickly as cocktails take longer to mix.”

Charlotte Olivencia, Assistant Team Lead, Marketing Europe,Cvent

When choosing what food to offer, consider how easy it will be for your guests to eat and talk. 

It’s often best to stick to canapes for a networking reception, but don’t serve any that are too messy to eat. You don’t want people becoming self-conscious of how they look when eating. 

3. Serve food with networking in mind

If your networking event takes place over lunchtime or early evening, consider serving ‘finger’ or ‘fork’ food, buffet-style, or in small bowls. Your guests can still mingle while eating, providing you have enough poser tables or places to sit so that people have somewhere to put down their glasses or plates. 

If your networking space isn’t suitable for bowl food, stick to canapes and opt for a butlered hors-d’oeuvres service. Canapes will be carried around on trays by the waiting staff and your guests will serve themselves, using cocktail napkins provided by the server. 

💡Check out our guide to all the different styles of food service here.

Networking at events

4. Use technology to facilitate connections

According to a recent study from Forrester Consulting, on behalf of Cvent, 77% of respondents said that their event attendees have higher expectations for digital features than they did a few years ago. 

The same is true for networking events. By using an event app to facilitate networking, you will empower registered attendees to connect beforehand and stay in contact afterwards without the need to swap business cards. 

An event app allows attendees to view other attendee profiles, send messages and exchange contact information. 

Other ways to use an event app for your networking events include incorporating live polls to get the conversations started. 

Why not challenge attendees by asking fun trivia questions about the venue, destination or your company’s products or service for a chance to win a sponsored prize? It’s a great way to incentivise people to download the app and engage. 

Additionally, live polling via the event app can be used to survey your attendees about their experience at your event or about a key trend or topic you’d like people to discuss. 

This interactive approach promotes lively discussion and encourages attendees to connect. 

“The app is also a good tool for letting guests know who the hosts are and encouraging them to go speak with them. It opens the conversation to your products and services without being too salesy. We often encourage registrants to download the app by giving the first 30 people a free coffee voucher.”

Charlotte Olivencia, Assistant Team Lead, Marketing Europe,Cvent

5. Get creative or use ice-breakers to encourage conversation

Starting your event with an icebreaker activity can help put attendees at ease and make it easier for them to start talking to one another. It could be something as simple as asking everyone to turn to their left and asking the person next to them for one surprising fact about themselves that they wouldn’t normally share. 

Creatively designed name badges can also add a fun element to your networking events by adding personalised or humorous touches, which will serve as conversation starters. 

Additionally, why not gamify your event badges by challenging attendees to seek out those badges featuring a secret code? You could send clues to cracking the code as notifications on the event app. 

This will encourage people to download your app, give your guests a conversation opener when they ask to look more closely at someone’s badge and give you an excuse to award prizes, which could be sponsored. 

By giving attendees more reasons to approach and speak with one another, you’ll enhance the overall attendee experience and leave a memorable impression. 

6. Book entertainment that will keep the conversation going

Adding entertainment to your networking event will make it even more memorable and provide an extra shared experience to get your attendees talking. 

A DJ or live band may be the answer. Or you could get event more creative with entertainment like a magician, stilt-walkers or wandering acoustic musicians who take song requests. 

“Trade shows are ideal places for discovering and sourcing entertainment. There are a lot of great entertainment agencies out there though that will help you fulfill your brief and match entertainment to your theme or venue.”

Charlotte Olivencia, Assistant Team Lead, Marketing Europe,Cvent

7. Always follow up with your guests

Be sure to keep the conversation going after your guests have left by following up via email to thank them for attending and asking them for feedback. 

Post-event survey questions will give you valuable feedback that you can use to plan future networking events and inform sponsors and stakeholders about the success of your activity.

Networking at events

Create inspiring events and make connections happen 

The need for face-to-face connection has made networking events that successfully facilitate new business opportunities and the chance to grow relationships a must-have for organisations of all types and sizes. 

Focus on event elements that double up as conversation starters. How you incorporate your chosen venue, entertainment, technology, food and drink to make your guests feel at ease and ready to mingle will ultimately determine the success of your activity. 

At Cvent, we run regular networking events as a way of keeping hoteliers, planners and marketers informed and connected in between our annual Cvent CONNECT Europe conference. The email invitations we send tie in with the venue theme. Plus, we also send reminders in the run-up to the event. 

“People are busy and have a lot of choices of which events to attend. So once they’re registered, we’ll send out a reminder to download the event app a few weeks out. Our sales team will then phone everyone in the week leading up to the event and then we’ll send another reminder the night before and perhaps even on the day.”

Charlotte Olivencia, Assistant Team Lead, Marketing Europe,Cvent

For more insights on how to create engaging in-person events, download our Ultimate Guide to In-Person Events. 

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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