Sometimes a chamber mixer can feel more like a junior high cafeteria. Everyone sits with the same people talking about the same things. While it can be fun for attendees to spend time with their friends, that can make things lonely for newbies. It also doesn’t help people looking to network and build relationships. How can you encourage mingling without being too intrusive or offputting?
10 Fun Ways to Encourage Mingling at Your Next Chamber Event
While networking is the reason behind many chamber events, people often stick with those they know. You want to encourage them to mingle. Yet, you don’t want to do so at the risk of them not enjoying themselves or it feeling like an obligation.
Check out these tried and true ideas from chamber pros on how they encourage more mingling at their chamber events:
- Give them something to do. The Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce set up a photo booth, which was donated by one of their members. ED/CEO Hilary Fenner explained, “It gave people something to do and the fun props had everyone laughing…it’s simple but fun!”
- Bingo! At Stephanie Mueller’s chamber, they turned a classic into a fun holiday mixer idea. She wrote, “We created Bingo cards and they had to find people that matched the square. (Most festive dressed, drives a red car, knows all the names of Santa’s reindeer, has 2 or more kids, etc.). If they got five in a row (checked off), we had them put their card in a box and we drew winners and gave lottery tickets. Our attendees loved it!!”
- Scavenger hunt. Similar to idea number two on this list, the chamber provides a list of characteristics (or things) that people then must find out about other attendees. Remember Monty Hall’s (or Wayne Brady, if you’re a little younger) Let’s Make a Deal? He went to the audience and asked them for random things like a can opener or a rain hat. You can do the same thing but make the items a little more mainstream.
- Perfect match. Chiara Shober shared an activity from a past MACE conference that will get people talking. First, put tags on everyone’s back. Each tag should be the name of one part of a famous pair or duo. Make sure you don’t give people who walk in together the same couple. Then challenge them to find their corresponding match. Chiara explained, “Like peanut butter needed to find jelly or moon needed to find sun. But you could only ask yes or no questions to the other participants to try and figure out what your word was. It was silly and we were all laughing. It was great.”
- Would You Rather? This fun game is easy to put together. First, make a list of questions that compare two things. For instance, “Would you rather be poor doing something you love or wealthy doing something you hate?” or “Would you rather be a mentor or a mentee?” Upon answering each question, attendees should move to one side of the room or the other based on how they answer. For instance, those who answered “poor” would be on one side, and “wealthy” on the other. That way as they look around the room, they can learn something about one another. It also gives them a topic of conversation later on after the icebreaker is over. Tami Taylor Schlamp said it really “helped mix people up.”
- Icebreaker questions. You don’t have to do something as formal as a game. You can give people icebreaker questions or ask them from the front of the room. Jenn Gunter Peddycord, Executive Director of the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce shared her suggestions for questions, “You can gear them toward networking topics like ‘What’s a lesson you learned recently that you wish you had known earlier in your career?’ or keep them general and holiday focused ‘What is your favorite holiday memory from childhood?’ I started adding these into almost every member get-together and it’s been very helpful in getting attendees to start conversations and get to know each other beyond workplace/job title.”
- Mixing it up. Colleen Helfers shared a great idea to encourage people to sit with someone new. She shared how she used candy to do that. “We had each guest pick a piece of candy out of a bucket- we had 10 tables of six so (we used) ten different types of candy. Told them not to eat it just yet. Once everyone was seated we asked them to find the candy they chose on the center of the table and move there. Most fun we have ever had !!!”
- Qualify for a chance to win. Everyone loves to win and it’s common to ask chamber event attendees to drop their business cards in a fishbowl for a chance to win. Take that idea and expand upon it. Instead of having your card be the ticket to a chance to win, it’s collecting others’ cards that puts you in the running. Mike Howard shared an idea that incentivizes people to connect, “Have everyone collect five business cards, have them come to a special table to show you (they did it) and then they are entered for a $100 gift card.”
- Earning a beverage. For evening events, many people make a bee-line to the bar to get their free drink. Then they often congregate with people they know. Peter Byrne suggested a different idea. He said at his event, “Each person (on arrival) picked a name from a box and was told when this person introduced themselves to you, you gave them this piece of paper. The piece of paper allowed the holder to obtain a free drink from the bar. For the first hour, the bar only gave drinks to ticket holders. Good fun was had as people toured the room introducing themselves hoping to find their name ticket and talking to people who were asking them if they had their ticket. The event was held in a hotel and they sponsored a free drink for each person attending.”
- Candy cane networking. Rosanne Ford shared this idea. Buy as many candy canes as you have attendees. Label 2-4 canes with the same number or symbol. Encourage people to find their other match (or matches). For larger events, you may want to use the same number or symbol more than twice. Rosanne wrote that matching “Cards are put in for a drawing, winners pulled and they can each choose a bottle of wine donated by board members (or get a sponsor for the wine)!”
Mingling at chamber events is not just about swapping business cards or nodding along to presentations; it’s about forming real connections. Encourage attendees to reach out to meet new people and make the most of these interactions. While a few of these activities seem silly on paper, they are an excellent way to help encourage the flow of ideas, shared experiences, and potential collaboration. Make sure your attendees understand what’s in it for them. After all, the person they chat with today could be the missing piece to their future success.
Additional Food for Thought on Networking
If your chamber is working on a diversity initiative, networking is even more critical to your work than you may have previously thought. According to information from LinkedIn from June 2023:
- Women had 30% fewer than men.
- Latino and black members had networks that were 20% and 13% smaller than those of white members, respectively.
- Black women’s average networks were 29% smaller than the national average and 38% smaller than those of white men.
- Latinas had the smallest average network sizes, being 34% smaller than the national average and 43% smaller than the average network size of white men.
- Members residing in ZIP Codes within the lowest median income quartile had average networks that were 42% smaller than those of residents in ZIP Codes with the highest median income.