Networking events are regularly promoted as one of the best ways to further your business or your career. There is an entire industry devoted to them, LinkedIn is a social media site based around the idea of business networking. You can find and attend events fairly easily but the real gold is found when you run your own networking event. Running an event means you have control over the what, where, when and who. You get to position yourself as the ringleader in the networking Big Top. So how can you organise a successful networking event?
1. Pick A Clear Purpose Or Theme for your Event
A networking event is about meeting people but it is not like your Aunt Dorothy’s 80th birthday party where random people turn up and you have no idea who you will meet next. Networking is about building connections and community within your sector or specialisation. Bringing people together so they can grow their own network, increase their “little black book” is one purpose but equally as important is sharing best practice, supporting a cause or bouncing ideas off each other. If invitees understand what they will get out of the networking event they are more likely to put in the time and effort to be there.
2. Format Your Networking Event Appropriately
Formal or casual, a networking event can sit anywhere in the spectrum. We traditionally think of an event as a crowd of people mingling and chatting, moving with a human Brownian motion. Depending on the size of the group you could consider a speed dating format where each person has a couple minutes to talk to another before switching seats. A sit down meal may be appropriate, swapping tables at every course. Learning a new skill, paint and sip, an outdoor event. As long as there is a way to keep people mixing, the choices are endless.
3. Consider the Budget
You might wish to make a profit from your networking event or you may be willing to invest money to create your community. Either way your budget (as always) plays a crucial factor. Your budget will dictate the size of the venue available, the catering options, any goody bags. You might need signage or an electronic check in. Potentially you may need a QR code created for Covid tracking. We all start with the drinks package when we think about the budget but it is the little things that people remember.
4. Cater Wisely
Nibbles and drinks are always welcome. Who doesn’t love snacks?! However the objective of the networking event is to get people talking and sharing. Having too much alcohol available can easily lead to poor communication just as much as a plate (or a mouth) full of mini pies. Think about how the food is going to get there, who is going to serve it if appropriate, who is going to clean up afterwards. A venue with on site catering is often the simplest answer.
5. Understand The Space
Once you have chosen the format, selecting a fitting venue requires you to think about how people will move around it. A board room with a large long table looks impressive to clients but can be difficult to navigate in a more free flowing, casual setting. To make your networking event work well you need to be able to move around the room bringing people together and take the helicopter view of the event.
6. When to host your networking event?
Tuesday morning at 10.30 is probably not the best time for a networking event. Attendees will be fitting it in before or after work usually but will have to factor in travel time too. Networking breakfasts mean you grab people’s attention before they get down to the business of the day. Evening events allow invitees to linger at the end and finish off those interesting conversations that you facilitated. Weekends are another option where some people have free time but others have family commitments. Consider your audience, what is the best time for them?
The core purpose of a networking event is to bring people together. Some people are not great at starting those conversations. In fact it is likely that the attendees are not good at networking naturally which is why they have come to your event, for help. Learn to facilitate conversations. Purposefully bring people together and introduce them by giving their name, what they do and possibly some interesting fact to get them talking. Depending on the size of the event and the venue consider having additional facilitators who are on the look out for shrinking violets hiding in the corner, drawing them out and making the event valuable for everyone.
8. Eliminate Distractions
It is tempting when running a networking event to have a speech or a speaker, possibly some entertainment to start the event off. If you do choose this route, think about how much time this will eat up and if that is really what these people turned up for. Understand the difference between a networking event, a presentation and a workshop.
9. Follow Up With Your Attendees
Probably the single most important part of a networking event is the follow up. Make sure you contact everyone after the event to express your thanks for their time. Check if there was anyone they wanted to connect to but lost their number. Ask for feedback on how to make the event even better next time. You can even create a Linkedin or Facebook group so the conversations can continue long after the event and your network becomes self-sustaining.
United Co. has a range of rooms and event venues to consider when organising an event. Our on site cafe can cater for professional events of all sizes. United Co. coworking and private office members also have access to regular community events. As a business built on bringing businesses together we would love to be part of your growth.