Viv McWaters posts her thoughts on how to connect people in large group settings. This post is a great start:
I learnt from one of my facilitation mentors, Antony Williams, that individuals generally come to groups with the need to be seen as an individual within the group (everyone likes to be recognised for being themselves first, a member of the group second) and to understand the connections. One of the first things I like to do when attending an event is to see who else will be there, and who I know, or people I’d like to meet in person. I don’t think I’m alone. Antony helped me understand that individuals are making choices and connections in groups all the time, whether conscious or not: where to sit and with whom, who to talk to, what questions to ask.
To add to this list, an activity I picked up along the way that Viv and I used with The Slips last year in Australia: have people turn their name tags around and write a question they have or a gift they have to offer on the blank side. That way, as people travel around during the conference, they can meet each other in their questions, and find out their names later.