Inclusive Social and Networking Events#

Social events, dinners, and even standing in lines for coffee can be some of the best times for attendees to get to know one another, identify potential collaborators, and spark ideas.

As an organizer, you should consider how to make these serendipitous opportunities for networking and socializing as accessible as possible for people with lived experience who are attending your event.

Depending on the size and format of your event, this may look like structured networking sessions, a social dinner, or a 15-minute social break at the start or middle of your event.

Please consider some of the suggestions below, and ensure that you take the time to consider and address any barriers that your specific attendees may face in joining social settings.

Choosing a Time for Networking#

Ideally, at least one networking or social event will take place during the main event’s program.

Social and networking sessions are key elements of conferences and other knowledge-sharing events. Social events provide attendees with opportunities to share ideas, connect with potential collaborators, and build partnerships between attendees at different institutions. They can be valuable spaces for researchers to follow up with a speaker or person with lived experience who engaged in discussions at the event.

However, networking sessions often take place at the end of the day which can lead to the exclusion of many attendees such as those with caring responsibilities, and many others who experience fatigue after a full day of active engagement.

Consider hosting a social breakfast or networking session before lunch for all attendees. This can provide an opportunity for people to meet one another and join discussions before the formal start of your event.

Additionally, for events taking place in person, consider hosting in-person networking events before a sit-down lunch or meal. This will both help people with anxiety who may feel uncomfortable and unsure of where to sit and eat lunch, and can also act as an ice breaker to facilitate conversation between researchers and attendees with lived experience. Hosting a social session before sit-down meals can help these attendees connect with other people and identify who to sit with during the meal.

Identification and Name Tags#

If your event includes name tags or badges, ensure that you ask attendees for their preferred name, and display the name they provide.

This is important for both in-person and online events.

Consider offering to include pronouns on attendees’ badges or virtual contact cards to support attendees being gendered correctly. Pronouns should be optional because while many people find the practice welcoming, others can feel unsafe in a situation where they are forced to display pronouns.

Make organizers and other event staff’s badges clearly identifiable and differentiated from attendees’ badges. This is useful for finding a session moderator to ask questions to during a session or for an organiser to ask directions at in-person events. For online events, consider adding your role and a common identifier to your name in Zoom and having organizers share a virtual background. It is important to clearly identify organizers and people who are able to help as part of supporting all attendees.

At in-person events, consider using lanyards to display name tags or badges. Many clip-on name tags assume that people have a pocket on the front of their shirts or jackets, however, many blouses, dresses, and shirts designed for women do not provide these pockets and therefore will not be able to easily display a clip-on name badge. Clip-on badges can also be difficult for people with fine motor disabilities or a disability that would otherwise restrict their ability to pin the clip onto their shirts.

Providing Guidance and Sparking Conversation#

Depending on the audience for your event, you may want to consider creating and sharing guidelines or suggestions on how to make the most of networking sessions. This can be especially helpful for autistic attendees, or attendees with social anxiety.

Additionally, researchers and professionals who share a niche field may know one another from previous events or collaborative projects and may find it easier to identify friends or people they wish to speak to during networking events. Conversely, attendees with lived experience may not have had the opportunity to establish long-standing connections with several researchers and therefore may feel daunted by having to network at your event.

Consider how to support your attendees from all backgrounds engage in networking. You may consider providing question prompts and designing your networking and social spaces so that people can move between conversations easily.

Providing a guide acknowledges the diverse needs of all attendees and promotes inclusivity by recognizing that everyone has unique challenges that may make social activities and networking more difficult.

We have curated a few topics or themes you may want to consider including in any guidance you provide below:

Information about the format#

It can be helpful for many people to have a structured format for social events, especially those who will be attending your event as volunteers and may not have met any of the other attendees before the session.

Consider deciding on and including a title, goal, and suggested question prompts in the session description. This can provide a shared understanding among attendees of what is expected during any social session at your event.

Although most social events are traditionally unstructured to allow for emergent discussion and knowledge sharing, it can be beneficial to provide guidance or prompts to start any social sessions and then allow for unstructured conversation time later in the session.

Setting Expectations#

In addition to information about the format that your social or networking event will have, consider including clear and explicit instructions about what engagement would be suitable and appropriate for your social activities.

This may be the first research-focused event for many of your attendees, and it can be helpful to surface many of the implicit social norms and practices of research events.

For example, poster sessions at research events are often considered to involve short interactions between a researcher and a group of people. At a poster session, an early career researcher may have the opportunity to share and explain their research project. These sessions would not be the best forum for public discourse about an attendee’s lived experience or for criticizing the purpose of the work that is being presented. Instead, poster sessions may be useful to make introductions with other attendees who are interested in a particular topic, and are an opportunity to learn about the research that has been conducted by asking questions about the research that person is presenting on their poster.

Depending on the audience, your guide may need to be more or less detailed. By providing guidance on the type of sessions, and what is expected in each setting, you can help facilitate more constructive and collaborative interactions between attendees, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Sparking conversation between attendees#

Social skills are fundamental in building relationships, sharing ideas, and collaborating on research endeavours.

Providing guidance on how to start conversations and socialize effectively can help support attendees with lived experience in developing professional connections and meaningfully engage in your event.

Depending on the size and timings of your event, you can consider setting prompts such as “find a fellow attendee who has the same favourite movie as you”, or “introduce yourself to 5 people you have never met before, and find 1 thing you have in common”. Prompts such as these can provide attendees with a goal for the session and help attendees to start conversations with one another.

Popular conversation starters can also be providing a blank space or additional sticker for attendees’ name tags with the prompt “Ask me about …”. This can help attendees find conversations with similar interests and can also help to spark initial conversations.

Good conversation prompts or ice breaker questions are both interesting for someone to think about and answer themselves, and also make attendees curious to hear everyone else’s answer.

Knowing how to start a conversation and navigate social interactions can help boost attendees’ confidence and support them in actively engaging in any social or networking activities.

How to introduce yourself#

You may consider providing examples of how to introduce yourself and start conversations. Pop-culture references providing good examples of how to introduce yourself can be found in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride featuring a character called Inigo Montoya introducing himself (view clip on YouTube), or Pixar animation’s movie Up featuring a character named Russell (view Russell’s introduction on Youtube). These characters make excellent introductions by following a helpful and informative format:

  • they state their name,

  • say what their background or goal is,

  • and then explain what someone can expect from an interaction with them.

For example:

“Hi, I’m The Turing Way. I’m an online handbook to help people learn and do reproducible, ethical, and collaborative data science. I’m looking for collaborators on my guide to hosting inclusive research events, what is the best event you’ve ever been to?”

Consider modelling the introduction format you would like attendees to use anytime you introduce yourself as organizers of the event, as well as asking any of the session moderators or facilitators to follow a recognizable format.

It can also be helpful to share a list of attendees (if this information is able to be shared) in an information booklet or alongside the event schedule. This can help attendees identify people whom they would like to connect with or speak to during any social activities or networking, before the start of your event.

You may also want to consider asking attendees to add a name pronunciation guide during registration that you can place alongside the attendee list.


Social events can often be uncomfortable and daunting for many people for a variety of reasons.

By providing a guide and establishing a structured approach to any social activities you may be able to reduce potential anxieties that attendees may have and support all attendees being comfortable in fully engaging with your event.