Types of Meetings

Hosted Buyer

This model has been very popular in Europe and is being increasingly employed elsewhere. Senior Buyer Representatives agree to participate in the event, and agree to take meetings with Supplier organizations as part of their participation. The buyers may receive a discount off their travel, lodging or registration, or they may receive priority access to some of the premium activities of the event, or they may receive intensive concierge service in the scheduling of their meetings. These are rewards, if you like, for taking the meetings.

Having secured the participation of the Hosted Buyers, about whom descriptive profiles are created about who they are and what they are looking for, Supplier firms are then invited to make requests of these Buyers. The Suppliers are often encouraged to rank their requests, or supplement each request with a note about why they fullfill some Buyer needs. The Buyer may then be allowed to review the list of requests and accept or decline requests, subject to their own agreed meeting count. Or the Event Coordinator may do this for them, scheduling meetings they believe will be of maximum benefit for all parties.

The essence of these though – is that the Buyer role is king, the meeting scheduling is moderated, and Suppliers themselves may have to pay a generous registration fee to participate.

Controlled Networking

Controlled Networking events have rules and constraints but are somewhat less tightly structured than Hosted Buyer. Here, the event coordinator may assign roles to different groups of participants, create rule for how those groups interact – but then leave them all to get on with the meeting scheduling process themselves.

So for example – there might be large exhibitors, small exhibitors, buyers and other attendees – who are considered roles. And rules might be set up, whereby Large Exhibitors can invite anyone, Small Exhibitors can make up to 10 requests of Buyers and Large Exhibitors, Buyers can requests Large and Small Exhibitors, but not other Buyers or Other Attendees. and Other Attendees can be invited, but not make requests themselves.

Then the rules themselves govern what everyone can do. As coordinator, you will want to run reports on participation, who is making requests, who not. who is sitting on un-responded requests. How well your big important exhibitors are getting on. But the coordinator involvement will be surgical, strategic and occasional – rather than constant and comprehensive.

For a Controlled Networking event – its a good idea to think through the details upfront. Decide where meetings are going to occur – and automate that so the location is assigned immediately. Think about the caps and limits. Decide if you have the time to provide the oversight yourself – or if you want to outsource it. Then you’ll get the program you were thinking of.

Handshake

Peer-to-Peer

This is the most free-wheeling of options – where largely anyone can request a meeting with anyone else – and its left to those two parties to decide if they agree to meet.

A few rules can be applied – such as assigning meetings to booths or locations if either party has one – or the table pool if they do not. But you can even allow for meetings to be scheduled that will have no location – normally a huge no-no – and will require the two parties to meet at the lobby and find two chairs somewhere.

This type of event requires the least amount of set-up and oversight. It can be exciting for the participants because they really are not constrained – and can meet people who interest them – beyond the specific business interests of the event coordinator. And this type of program may be used where there are no obvious parties like exhibitors, whose financial involvement has earned them a priority role.

Its important that Attendees be able to create profiles that describe themselves well – and that the search tools allow for filtering on all those different dimensions that make up the profile – so Attendees have the tools to find each other. Then they reach out with a request – and that request is either accepted or declined. You get what you get and don’t get upset.

Basic Sign-up

This type of program is only partially constrained – but it is not free-wheeling. The essence of a basic sign-up program – is where buyers can slot meetings with exhibitors – always at their booth. They can pick the time (and if there is a group demo going on they can pick that) – and their time slot is immediately confirmed as a meeting for them. The exhibitor does not have refusal rights.

This is a process of self-directed schedule building by the attendees – choosing which exhibitors to visit/meet with and when. There may be a first-come, first-served element to this program, if booths have limited capacity to hold sessions. And there is something a little unsatisfying all round about this program. The Exhibitor has no rights to either invite more interesting Attendees themselves – nor the right to decline those who have signed. And the Attendee – having received no kind of acknowledgement – does not know who they will meet nor if they are to especially welcomed.

This is a classic program for a Trade Show – from the days when technology did not allow for anything more sophisticated. Nowadays – this type of sign-up may get used as the very final phase of a program. A way to fill up unused slots and capacity. Onsite – for example – attendees may be allowed to slot their own meetings – long after Exhibitors have been able to schedule their own meetings – and thus have only unused availability which they are happy to put to use.

Key Decisions

  • Moderated vs Non-Moderated?

    This is a very key decision to make early and it will depend on a few things:
    a. what is the business logic? If you have key constituents – eg exhbibitors or presenters or big buyers – who need to be taken care of and be assured of a smooth networking experience – then you may choose to moderated the meetings.

    What does moderated mean? If means that the participants only make requests of each other – they are not able to schedule each other into timed meetings. The participants express who they would like to meet – and may provide either a ranking or some other indicators of their strength of feeling about the request – but ultimately it is the moderator who decides which requests become meetings and which do not.

    This is a lot of power for the moderator. They have the power to ensure that big exhibitors have a good number of meetings. But its also a lot of work. Tracking what is happening, taking the right actions based on the data you are seeing. So its a commitment, and one only to be embraced if you have the time and resources to do it well.

    The scheduling itself for the moderator takes 2 forms – automated or manual. An automated process allows the moderator to isolate a group of participants – Tier 1 exhibitors for example – and have the system create 20 meetings for each of them. Or 5 meetings. Or every requests they have. And then move to Tier 2 and do the same thing for them. Hundreds of meetings get created in an hour or two of work.

    The automation can also take account of the requests. It can limit the scheduling to mutual requests. This is very typically how a Hosted Buyer event will do it – scheduling only those meetings where Bill requested Barbara and Barbara also requested Bill. Or it can take account of the rank order of requests from those people.

    The manual process if the alternative. For each target of requests – the moderator can see all the people who requested them – and all the time slots they have available – and slide requestors into specific slots. The benefit here – is the moderator has more control over which time slot gets used, and can create group meetings in the process. Barbara, Bob, and Bree can be put into the meeting with Bill using the time spaces more efficiently. But again, its more time consuming.

  • Where will the meetings take place?

    Meeting at Trade Shows will generally take place at an Exhibitors booth – and for many shows that’s the end of the story. So for your networking – you need to consider booth size – and allow for the fact that a larger booth can accommodate 2 ,3,4 meetings all at once – whereas a small booth might only handle 1 meeting – so once Alice from Artisan Chips has a 10.00am meeting at the booth, her colleague Alex cannot schedule one since there is nowhere to sit.

    There is also some business logic buried in here – because it means only exhibitors are the prime audience for the networking – and two non-exhibitors cannot meet – because there is no location for them. And it means that larger exhibitors with bigger booths are allowed more meetings than smaller ones.

    OR you can choose to additionally provide a meeting location pool – for meetings that cannot take place at a booth for various reasons. This pool might be a group of 20 tables at one end of the show floor. Or in an enclosed room close by. And you can choose how these tables get used. You can allow exhibitors to use them as overflow locations when they get busy with meetings. Or some exhibitors might prefer to take certain meetings away form the booth – with important customers or competitors for example. And you can allow the pool to be used by non-exhibitors – if you wish.

    And some events do not have access to Exhibitor booths and use only a pool of tables.

    And lastly – some event will use table or even hotel rooms – dedicated not to the exhibitors but to the buyers. A Hoisted Buyer program is typically going to keep the Buyer at a particular location and have the Suppliers circulate. Whether they use table or rooms, will often depend on the confidentiality of any meeting. some meetings can happily exist in public, where someone seeing who you are meeting with, or even overhearing fragments of your conversation is not terribly damaging. Other events, however, maintain very strict privacy around both the fact of meetings, and the content – and so keep meetings behind closed doors.

  • Anonymous vs Non-Anonymous

    This question applies only to moderated events – and usually only to Hosted Buyers events. The question is this: If Wendy makes a request to William – should William be aware of that request – and be able to respond to it? Or should William be blind to the request from Wendy and therefore be able to make a completely independent decision of his own whether or not he wishes to also request Wendy – without being guided by the knowledge she already requested him.

    Many Hosted Buyer events do opt for the anonymous model – in order to get a set of mutual requests that is completely free and uninfluenced. Undoubtedly meetings scheduled from this type of mutual request is the most valuable.

    However – this maybe not always be as appealing as it seems. One problem is that the number of perfectly mutual requests that attendees freely express – maybe quite small. Like ships passing in the night – they just miss each other. Whereas knowing that Wendy had requested William might have prompted him to think, “sure, I hadn’t considered Wendy, but if she is keen to meet, then I will happily meet her”.

    Secondly – just to work the stats math – in order to reach a desired number of meetings – attendees are often required to make way more anonymous requests than they otherwise would. To get to a target of 10 meetings – they may be asked to make 30 anonymous requests – which means some of their meetings will be with requests from the low 20s ranking. Having someone meet their 28th choice is not necessarily an improvement over letting them choose if they want to take the meeting with Wendy.

  • Caps and Limits

    There are all kinds of caps and limits you can apply to your networking program. Why? Usually because there is either a business reason you are following, or else there is a constraint somewhere.

    1. Meeting Caps – you can apply limits on the number of meetings people are able to schedule. This can be a flat cap across the board – or different roles can have different caps depending on how much they have paid, or what type of role they are.
    2. You can constrain not only the meetings – but also how many requests different groups are allowed to make. This can constrain an aggressive, but unpopular, networker form inviting a large number of attendees – even despite no one ever accepting.
    3. You can constrain where meetings take place – limiting them to locations reserved by key participants, such as Exhibitors or Hosted Buyers – or you can permit overflow in to the shared pool of tables.
  • Date cutoffs – or keep it going onsite?

    Do you want to put a firm time frame around the networking preparations? Or are you happy to have your participants keep scheduling meetings up to the last minute – even onsite?

    Typically – the more formal the program – the more likely that date cutoffs will exist. A Hosted Buyer program needs to be very will set in stone. And Controlled Networking – especially if moderated – may not want to allow for spontaneous meetings onsite where the parties may not be prepared.

    But more open types of events like peer-to-peer or basic signup are often allowed, and even encouraged, to continue right up to the last minute. Onsite there will be a mobile web app that has exactly the same tools that their desktop registration had – and allows them to book meetings in the same way that people book meetings on Open Table while walking to the restaurant.

Considerations

Spend some time – well ahead of your event or your need to implement a specific program – thinking through what type of networking program best meets your specific needs – based on:

  1. Your mix of buyers and sellers, and the market they operate in. Which groups are scarcer vs more
    plentiful. How important are your exhibitors.
  2. The physical characteristics of your event – eg floor plan
  3. Your time and desire to run a moderated program.
  4. What type of events your competitor events offer

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