With social interactions limited to video calls over the last couple of years, people are craving connection, collaboration, and networking opportunities more than ever. In fact, most corporate event attendees rank networking as their No. 1 reason for going. Networking events—such as in-person or virtual meetups, career fairs, trade shows, conferences, speed networking activities, and workshops—fill that gap.

When planning events, today’s event professionals must consider how the industry has evolved, including incorporating virtual networking opportunities for those who can’t or choose not to attend in person.

Looking for inspiration? Check out these real-life networking event examples to help event attendees meet, trade business cards, and create lasting connections.

How to plan a successful networking event

A back view on a group of women sitting at a large table during a networking event for white collar workers. Lots of people can be seen watching a presentation

Pulling off any event starts with the basics: a plan, a budget, and the right event tech. Here’s what to consider when organizing a networking event: 

  • Choose a format: People don’t need to physically shake hands to network. So, think about the event format to best support your goals as you make your plan. Virtual networking events, or hybrid formats, open the event to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend, allowing attendees to make even more connections. Your format also helps determine the budget and technology needs. 
  • Set the budget: Determining if you’ll need to rent an event venue is a top consideration for making an event budget. Other potential budget expenses include marketing and signage, food and beverages, event staffing, and event technology.
  • Leverage event technology: With an end-to-end event management platform, organizers gain access to built-in networking tools to facilitate in-person, virtual, and hybrid event networking. Event tech enables attendees to exchange digital business cards, engage in live video chats, and join in on fun networking challenges via gamification. 

Looking for more info on planning a flawless event? Check out these event management planning strategies.

8 networking event examples to inspire

Gain inspiration to level up your next networking event with these recent examples.

1. MAD//Fest

Networking at MAD//Fest 2021

The MAD in MAD//Fest, the UK’s largest destination marketing festival, stands for marketing, advertising, and disruption. The event holds true to its ethos as it challenges the norms of the events industry. 

Indoor garden. Booths doubling as pub tables. Friendly foosball competitions. MAD//Fest created fun, party-like networking opportunities at their 2021 hybrid event. But they also found unique ways to foster connections in a virtual format. For example, when COVID hit, they pivoted MAD//Fest to a virtual conference with over 700 speakers and 23,000 attendees who mingled in the event’s virtual pub and competed in gamification challenges to promote networking.

2. Forbes 2021 Under 30 Summit

To celebrate a decade of their prestigious Under 30 list, Forbes hosted their Decade of Disruption Under 30 Summit as a hybrid event. List makers celebrated in person, while the conference was broadcast virtually to a larger audience. 

Unique networking opportunities at the Summit included Taste of Detroit (a street festival highlighting local food and drinks) and a Forbes Under 30 Music Festival. But you don’t need a giant budget to foster meaningful networking.

Event marketers can draw inspiration from the community service aspect of the Summit. Forbes launched a mentorship program in partnership with Close the Gap Foundation, pairing first-generation, low-income, and BIPOC students with Forbes Under 30 list makers to help bridge the network gap. Differentiate your event by creating opportunities for connections within the community.

3. AIGA Design + Business Conference

The American Institute of Graphic Arts brings together leaders in the design field to inspire the industry. At their 2021 conference, they reserved an hour each day for “Design Dates,” where designers could network casually with attendees to discuss various topics of interest. For the Schitt’s Creek fans among us, it resembled a sophisticated Alexis Rose “Singles Week” vibe.

Meanwhile, AIGA’s daily happy hour, “Drinks with Designers,” provided informal networking to help attendees wind down from the busy conference day. Proof that networking doesn’t have to be stuffy and businesslike.

4. Dreamforce 2021

People walking in crosswalk in front of large woodland sculpture with the words "dreamforce national park" on it

Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce event brings together Salesforce customers, partners, and employees for learning, fun, community building, and philanthropy. The event transforms city blocks into Dreamforce National Park. There’s a reason for that.

“Dreamforce is what we call a family reunion, bringing together our customers, our employees, and the community,” says Salesforce SVP of Strategic Events Karin Flores. “We always liken that to a family vacation at a national park.”

Even the best events can be mentally taxing, and Dreamforce brings the chill by including meditation and other wellness activities into their programming. Offer yoga classes, guided walks, or other activities to help your guests unwind, connect, and return to networking with an energized mind.

5. PACK EXPO International

Powered by The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, PACK EXPO brings together the packaging and processing industries to showcase evolving technology in the industry and form connections between packaging professionals from multiple verticals.

They host a few networking opportunities: Packaging & Processing Women’s Leadership Network Breakfast, PACK Gives BACK Networking Event, and the Young Professionals Networking Event. 

With women underrepresented in the packaging industry, PACK EXPO’s women’s networking breakfast offers an example of how event planners can promote inclusion and diversity.

6. IMEX America

People walking down a large hallway at IMEX America

IMEX America caters to business event professionals, which means they have to set a high bar when it comes to programming. And they do just that with a range of exciting networking opportunities tailored to participants’ learning styles and interests. 

IMEX America hosts Campfires (informal small group networking sessions), Hot Topic Tables (moderated small group networking based on specific topics), expert clinics, workshops, 5k runs, volunteer days, parties, and awards ceremonies. Offering myriad options for your attendees to choose from makes networking more enjoyable for all.

7. EMS

The Experiential Marketing Summit allows conference-goers to book speed networking meetups with other attendees through their event app. They also inject more formal networking opportunities into their daily schedules, such as networking breakfasts, 5k run/walks, an awards gala, coffee breaks, networking lunches, happy hours, dinners, and more.

By outlining all the networking opportunities on their event agenda, attendees could easily choose their preferred sessions. This works especially well for morning people and night owls. Schedule networking around different times and occasions (coffee, lunch, happy hour drinks) to appeal to more people.

8. AmSpa 2021

A group of people gather around a counter at an event

The Medical Spa Show presented by the American Med Spa Association offers the premier trade show for non-invasive medical aesthetics. At their 2021 show, AmSpa encouraged networking through fun event gamification challenges in their event management platform. They also showcased top performers via Live Display technology to create friendly competition and boost networking further.

Learn more about how AmSpa used event gamification to level up their hybrid trade show.

Make networking fun with Webex Events

The Webex Events end-to-end event management platform comes fully equipped with powerful networking and engagement tools, including: 

  • Attendee profiles that serve as virtual business cards. Profiles can include name, social media handles, website, headshot, and more.
  • Video networking rooms for small group discussions.
  • Direct messaging and 1:1 video chat to connect attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors.
  • Shake & Connect, which allows attendees to shake their phone, discover who’s around them, and then exchange profiles.
  • A customizable gamification feature to empower networking between attendees and sponsors.

Schedule a free demo to see how Webex Events can help you incorporate more networking opportunities into your next event, whether in person, virtual, or hybrid.