The Power of Facilitation at Web Summit: 15,000+ New Connections in Just Two Minutes

Dasa Kasparova

We understand that event networking is important for our delegates. More often than not, it’s the main reason why they join our events. We use an arsenal of tools to improve it – event apps, complicated icebreakers or name tags with personal hobbies.

They work. At least partially.

But as with many things in life, the simplest solution is often the most effective.

When connecting people, that solution is facilitation. At least, that’s what I’m convinced about.

While my conviction is firm, I always wondered if there is a ceiling to crowd size.

But Web Summit proved that when it comes to facilitating the crowd, the sky’s the limit.

Here is what happened.

It was the opening night. There were around 15,000 people in Lisbon’s Altice Arena – and I was one of them.

The conference co-founder and CEO, Paddy Cosgrave, walked up on stage and greeted everyone.

After a few introductory remarks, he reminded us that we’re at the world’s largest gathering of entrepreneurs.

He continued by pointing out that there were many incredible people sitting in the audience. (Just imagine the brain potential!)

“Many of the most incredible people here will not be on this stage, or on any other of our stages; there are simply too many of you to accommodate all of you. And the next four days are all about you connecting with like-minded people.”

Not missing a chance, he proposed something one might consider sheer insanity – to facilitate the individual introductions of 15,000 people:

“In a moment, in what has become an annual Web Summit tradition, I am going to ask everyone to stand up and introduce yourselves to at least 3 people around you. You really honestly just never know who happens to be sitting beside you, and it’s a truly magical moment. Are we ready?”

On his cue, the whole arena stood up and started humming with, “Hi, my name is…” and, “Where are you from?”

I joined the crowd and did my very own introductions with people around me. I learned that there was a conference speaker right behind me, and an employee from The United Nations sitting on a chair just next to mine.

To build up on the buzzing energy in the audience, Paddy continued, “So I’ve met some people from Greece, from Croatia…is there anybody from Ukraine? Germany?” The attendees from these countries applauded in unison at the mention of their homelands.

It all took a little over 2 minutes. But it felt like we had all just become part of the conference.

No self-serving icebreakers, no swiping left or right; just a simple facilitation.

The key to creating better connections, is facilitation.

So, the next time someone asks me to give them a tip on how to create better networking at their event, I’m going to say:

“It’s all about the facilitation and letting people talk to each other. And if the CEO of Web Summit succeeded with 15,000 people, it’s possible to do it with 150 people.”

If you’re curious to see how it felt on site, check out Web Summit’s icebreaker opening in this video (starting at 5:55):

Photo credits: Web Summit licensed under CC-BY 2.0

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