We’ve been organizing life science events for more than 3 years now and we see the need more than ever to help biotech researchers and professionals network. Creating an engaging event with notoriously shy people isn’t always easy, and we’ve had both missteps and real winning ideas. We’d like to see more successful events being held and see a real opportunity for organizations and companies to get involved. Here are four ways we’ve found to get scientists to attend, engage, and get more out of events, which benefits all involved.
- Speed Networking. If you’ve done speed dating, you’ll get this easily. Check out our post on the San Diego Biotechnology Network site for all the details, and here is the rundown. Arrange tables in a “U” shape and place chairs matched across the table on the inside and outside. Have everyone take a seat and make sure all have partners, then give them 4 minutes to talk. Prep them by telling them to bring lots of business cards and to craft a 30 second ‘elevator speech’ to describe who they are and what they’re looking for. Bring a timer and use a microphone to announce the 4 minute warning–you’ll get some people who are never finished after 4 minutes which you’ll have to manage, but most are well behaved. Scientists enjoy being ‘forced’ to interact and go home with a lot of new connections.
- Introduce a Colleague. This activity helps attendees get to know each other and get exposure to the group. At the registration desk, ask guests if they want to participate to put their business card in a bowl and to draw one out. They will then need to find the person they drew and learn more about them. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last person has drawn a name to start the introductions. Person A introduces person B at the microphone, then person B introduces the person they drew, etc. You’ll invariably get some cards left in the bowl, so at the end offer to have people introduce themselves, even if they didn’t participate. We have found this activity to be very popular, and you can always tell people they don’t have to participate if they’re too shy (but we’ve found it a good excuse for them to come out of their shell).
- Networking Bingo. We got this idea from our colleague Jessica Yingling at Little Dog Communications and have used it twice now at events in San Diego. You prepare a bingo grid and in each square put a quality that you know people in attendance will have and that will also spark some conversation. For example, for a recent science communication event, some of the squares were ‘Blogger,’ ‘Twitterer,’ ‘Public Relations.’ People then need to find people who fit the description and get their signature (bring lots of pens). You’ll need to give prizes for the first Bingo (a row), the first to fill out the whole page, then 5 or so (depending on the size of the group) prizes for the next people to fill out the whole page. Be prepared to have some more prizes if you run out, as you don’t want the bingo to stop (although people enjoy it so much they’ll likely continue). At one event, an attendee gave us a very sincere ‘thank you’ as they admitted how shy they are and that the activity helped them greatly to meet people.
- Identity Stickers. I stole this concept from a local Barcamp I attended. The idea is to help people identify their interests and help them to start a conversation using small printed stickers. We bought the smallest address labels (1/2″ X 1 3/4″) we could find and printed them with qualities we knew the attendees would have. We did this activity at our science communication event, choosing items from the bingo squares (e.g., Blogger, Twitter handle), and we also added fun (e.g., Nobel Laureate), loosely related (e.g., Mac, PC) and more personal items (e.g., Parent). We found that almost every attendee wore at least one sticker, some 4-5! The activity worked well with networking bingo and it requires the least setup and could be done even at events where there are no nametags. See the this photo from a recent event in San Diego to see some sporting the stickers.
These four tactics will not only help you have a successful event, but they’ll help scientists network and refine their personal brand, both for which we are finding an increasing need. You don’t have to host a big event to try these activities out, add an extra 15 minutes for networking before or after your next seminar or practice them within your group (you may be surprised at how much you learn). Anyone who hosts such events will not only make more connections, but benefit from the fantastic karma of helping scientists network and grow.
Image courtesy Julie McClure showing researcher Nadejda Korneeva’s winning bingo card at our April 23rd networking event in San Diego. Nadejda said one of our event ‘regulars’ Marti Krane helped her to find people so she could fill the card, indicating the great ‘pay it forward’ culture that can be created at networking events.
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