conference break networking

Hacking a Behavioral Science Conference

Shirin Oreizy
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Editor’s note: We recently posted a couple popular pieces from a behavioral conference – see here and here. As it happens, one of the speakers there performed an informal experiment on the attendees, all of whom were, of course, somewhat behaviorally inclined.

Since PeopleScience is all over the need to experiment – see here and here and here and embedded in just about every article – we definitely thought this was worth checking out.

Please note: As Shirin herself admits and we want to underscore, this is not a scientifically proven test and shouldn’t be used as the basis of a billion dollar campaign (million dollar, maybe … but definitely not billion dollar). It’s speculative and anecdotal with results from a small, biased sample size … but it’s really interesting and reveals some potential for further experimentation in a more rigorous environment. You knew that, but I wanted to reiterate it, because we’re all about credibility here. That and periodic dad jokes, but mostly credibility. Now get to the good stuff:


This year, we had the privilege of taking part in the Behavioral Marketing Summit in San Francisco. An annual conference, the Summit hosts the top behavioral science researchers, academics, and practitioners from world-class organizations like Oglivy and Airbnb, as well as Professor Dan Ariely (known as the Godfather of Behavioral Science) to speak about how to successfully implement these interventions in marketing, product development, design and other areas. (Editor’s note: Dan’s talk at the conference can be consumed here, and other speakers’ ideas are waiting for you here.)

Not only is the Behavioral Marketing Summit an incredible space for learning and sharing ideas, but also 100% of the proceeds are donated to Take Her Back, an international NGO that combats child sex trafficking. We are honored to support this incredible organization.

We wanted to flip the script on typical conference presentations by creating an interactive presentation to figure out how behavioral science can improve the outcomes of conferences. Specifically, how could we help more conference attendees actually follow up with the people they meet? We leveraged the behavioral science brainpower in the room to brainstorm their pain points and solutions for better networking.

We leveraged the behavioral science brainpower in the room to brainstorm their pain points and solutions for better networking.

We hypothesized that removing friction from networking would result in more people sending follow-up emails during and after the conference. We then provided an email template to everyone, so that they could more easily send emails to connect with people they met.

To test our hypothesis, we ran three polls, one during the conference, one at the end (before happy hour) and a final survey about a week later. During the conference, we asked attendees to stand up if they had sent 1, 2 or 3 emails after the last conference they attended (before the Summit). In the back, we were counting. Then, we repeated the survey 4 hours later, before the drinks, to see how many emails they had sent since our talk (Editor’s note: I’ll assume that’s why they were always suddenly on their phones when I tried to speak with them). After the conference, we sent around a follow-up email to see if people were still networking.


The Results

The results were even more exciting than we anticipated. Below are the numbers from our in-conference count.


Number of emails sent per conference


The responses look pretty similar, which is good news. In the first survey, we asked people to think about the last conference they attended and how many follow up emails they sent in total. That means the first graph represents emails sent during the conference and the days after the conference.

The second survey took place just a few hours after our talk. That means that people had already sent a similar number of emails in the four hours between our talk and the end of the conference as they normally do in all the days following a conference. And we hadn’t even started happy hour yet.*

Then, to see if our networking prime and tools continued to help people follow up after the conference, we sent our own follow-up email* with two questions:

  1. At the previous conference you attended, how many follow up emails did you send?
  2. How many follow up emails have you sent since the Behavioral Marketing Summit?


Number of Total Emails Sent Per Conference

You are seeing that right and we could have used a bigger scale. 31% of people reported only sending one email at the last conference they went to, while no one who responded to our survey only sent one follow up email. What’s more, no one reported sending 5+ emails after the last conference, while over half, 56%, responded by saying they had sent 5 or more emails after the Behavioral Marketing Summit. That is a huge reversal.

We know, we know. This is self-selection, self-report and a small number of people so we aren’t running to the journals just yet. Also, see disclaimer below.

That being said, we feel confident in saying that this little pilot experiment exceeded our expectation and merits further exploration of how we can use behavioral science to improve conference outcomes. (Editor’s note: See Editor’s note up top.)


*Disclaimer/Explainer: Our in-person survey is based on polling the audience twice. The audience was approximately 1/3 the size after the four hour interval. Our email survey was sent to 160 conference attendees and our response rate was about 10%.

Shirin Oreizy
Next Step


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