If Everyone Meets at the Water Cooler, Then Create One at Your Event

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I just ran into a colleague in the kitchen, and we had a great conversation about our upcoming Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS) in Fort Lauderdale Nov. 12-14. (Here's a link to the program.) Another colleague joined and joked about this being the place where our best meetings take place.

Well, of course, there is something to that. Facilitating face-to-face meetings is a challenge these days, whether at the office or perhaps more importantly at one of our events where people are paying us money for that privilege. 

And while 76% of all generations say it's important to give them opportunities to network and make connections, 49% of Gen Y Millennials rated it as very important, the highest of all generations. Creating and promoting on-site opportunities may impact their decision to attend. Speed networking, roundtables, improvisation and especially gamification can intensify that networking.

Here are three ideas I've come across.

The "Water Cooler." One of the things we saw in our research is that people want to network more and to talk about topics they're interested in," said Marc Lapides, VP of marketing, communications, and programming–convention for the National Restaurant Association. 

Thus emerged the Water Cooler—a new space on the show floor of their conference that they set up to host crowd-sourced conversations and group meetups. "Showgoers voted for their favorite discussion topics on social media; the schedule listed the issues up for discussion, and the show staff seeded some of the discussions and topics since this was the first time out for the Water Cooler concept," reported Meetingsnet.com.

Meetups allowed members of special-interest groups—students at the show, sustainability devotees, mixologists—a central place to connect. "It was usually full of people," Lapides says. "We saw busy whiteboards (large Post-it notes, to be exact) and lots of small group conversations."

Live storytelling. "The Financial Times has been experimenting with telling its stories through theatre performance, aiming to see if creative, live approach to storytelling can engage audiences in new ways," reports Journalism.co.uk.

"We weren't sure about the subject matters that would work and that wouldn't, so we just tried to find excited journalists that were willing to try it," said Robin Kwong, head of digital delivery, Financial Times.

The equivalent for SIPA might be where a couple of your journalists expound on one of their most popular articles in a special session or maybe even an evening get-together with drinks. The FT actually teamed up with People's Palace Projects, an independent arts charity at Queen Mary University of London, and performance space Battersea Arts Centre, to hold early work-in-progress, scratch performances of its stories on stage.

Innovation Gallery. At the end of last year, Hilton opened an Innovation Gallery, "a first-of-its-kind incubator and experiential showcase for cutting-edge product developments that will shape the future of Hilton hospitality... It is a physical space where conversations between thought leaders, design experts and hospitality professionals deliver new products and solutions for Hilton's guests."

Included in the Gallery were a Product Showcase—where visitors could interact with physical and virtual products that Hilton is exploring for use in hotels; a Food & Beverage Concept Studio to showcase their latest restaurant concepts—maybe this can be your mid-afternoon snack place?—and an Innovation Theater which they termed a gathering space to brainstorm, collaborate and intersect around innovative ideas.

Lastly, I just wanted to support an article I read on Association Laboratory Inc. a couple weeks ago, concerning networking at events. Ben West does not believe you should isolate your younger attendees from the more experienced audience members; he believes quite the contrary.

He cited research they did comparing dental students to dentists in practice. "The data showed that students consistently shared the same concerns and priorities as established dentists. They weren't different, they were the same. The association's strategy is being modified to incorporate them into the community more effectively as a result.

"Creating a special 'area' isolating them from more senior members, attendees or volunteers isn't doing them a favor..." West wrote. "Successful strategies [like including them on panels and committees] will link younger members to the broader community not isolate them from the people they want to know and learn from."

Well said.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…
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