How to create an efficient conference networking game
At MCEconf, innovative ideas are thrown about and new information is exchanged among mobile experts. Yet, the second most important purpose of the conference is for attendees to meet, mingle, discuss, connect, share, to put it shortly: it’s all about networking games!
However, networking game can also be the toughest exercise while participating at any conference. One always finds it hard to break his social bubble to interact and become an active element of the gathering. Passivity remains the easy way, and a big majority of attendees will miss the opportunities to learn and develop offered by such events. We will explain in this post how we addressed the problem and develop a social networking game following design thinking strategy.
Let’s put some context…
As founder of MCEconf, since the 1st edition, we strive to answer the question: how to make participants network smoothly during the event? So much that it became a full scope project at Polidea, from ideation to development. But what an interesting design challenge that to increase human interactions, change social behaviours and facilitate the flow of knowledge (Yes it is that cool!). During the past three years, we have learned a lot networking games for professionals in the world of mobile creation. Idea Mixer is the last born of our third iteration of MCE networking games. At first sight, when IT engineers, designers and product managers gather in one place, it seems that it will be hard to make them communicate.
However, at Polidea we believe that well-designed products are not created by individuals but teams, with a set of shared knowledges and great communication. Getting to know people from the community is essential to grow professionally but also to stir up innovation and develop possible partnerships.
We wanted to ease the lives of our attendees and make the conference nice and friendly. But making everything smooth and effortless takes off the chance of experiencing something new. With Idea Mixer, the main purpose was to push people out of their comfort zone. We wanted to encourage attendees - even introverted ones - to interact with each other. And not only inside their own specializations, but to really mix all disciplines, age, gender etc… To push the developer to have a long, nice talk with the designer or the designer to start a constructive discussion with the product manager.
If you are also organising an event which require more networking involvement from your attendees here is the design process we followed to create Idea Mixer
In order to define your primary goals we believe futurespective to be the most interesting approach. The concept is to imagine, before starting any ideation activities, the possible outcomes your design would bring to the attendees, to your company, and for the people engaged in the project. Three main priorities emerged from our Idea Mixer futurespective process:
- Engage all attendees in networking activities
- Reduce in-between-talks slack time
- Strengthen mobile-centered CEE community
Once your focuses are delimited, you should gather empirical data about your target group by interviewing a sample of your attendees profiles in order to understand and categorize the different social behaviours of our future users. In Idea Mixer case that was easy as some of our users were developers living under our roof at Polidea and also ourselves (designers). The main goal is to define the two main social characteristic represented at your event. For MCEconf our results we divided our users between sociable and introvert (which will most probably be the same for all possible events or conferences). Each categories should then be divided into subgroups to be more accurate.
Building up on those personalities we decided to design for the two most extreme combinations: the “demanding old hand in a pack of wolves” and “lone wolf newbie”. By doing we were able englobe the majority of your future users, and so should you.
Once you have defined your users persona you can start designing the main features of your networking game. From the interviews with our devs & designer panel we were able to draw three different features that should be part of Idea Mixer:
- gathering people with certain characteristics (same interests, complementary skills, etc.)
- getting to know one’s experience level
- breaking the ice smoothly (as opposed to an artificial/forced way)
Once all those information in your pocket, you can finally start brainstorming. Draw a user’s journey map to highlight difficulties and opportunities. Then narrow down your existing ideas into four different time induced features. For Idea Mixer it looked like this:
- Before the conference (or how to engage users before the start of the event)
- During the event registration (each attendees could design his own badge depending on his center of interest)
- During lunch time (display of attendees hashtag next to the lunch tables)
- During slack time (display of hashtags on given spaces)
Once your first ideas are set, submit them to your focus group of users. In our case, feedbacks were not really positive, as most of the group believed that the features would be too constraining for the attendees, and at the same time would not really “break the ice”. They suggested us to integrate some games in the whole process. So we did, and it served us as a base for the Idea Mixer project.
In parallel we also implemented pieces of Polidea coffee & tea connoisseur culture into the concept. It took the form of a self brewing workshop that the participants would enjoy during MCE breaks. Only they had to be in team of four. Once more this was made to incentivize participants to exchange. Only was left to polish those ideas into a finished product that would surprise and inspire MCE attendees.
In our next post we will unveil Idea Mixer in full light and expose our project retrospective which will help us create an even better networking experience for next year MCEconf! Stay tuned!