Image Credit: Arild Nybo.
Anyone who’s ever put together a networking event knows that, almost by its very nature, it can easily defy your expectations. Because they require audience participation—in fact, they pretty much revolve around it—networking events pose a particular set of challenges for the event planner. How do you make sure people attend? Participate? Get something out of it? It’s a tricky business.
The guidelines below will help take you from the start to the finish of a successful networking event, with advice based on time-tested wisdom (and a little help from our app). Happy planning!
Guideline 1: Have a clear purpose (a-b-c).
Nothing leads to confusion and chaos faster than not having set a clear goal for an event. As a first port of call, lay down exactly what your event’s goal is, and make sure it’s easy to understand (that’s a). Along with this, nail down exactly what makes this event relevant to potential participants (b), and why it’s special or different from other events (c).
Guideline 2: Give attendees what they need.
Who should attend your event, and what are they going to get out of it? Always plan your event with your guests’ needs as the primary focus. Once you know your purpose and who you want to serve, you can select a format that will facilitate meeting their needs. Networking events can take a variety of formats—freestyle meet-and-mingle, a talk followed by mingling, structured speed-dating-type activities, etc. Choose a format that’s likely to give your attendees the most value.
This goes for choosing a location as well. Choose a venue that’s likely to be convenient for the people you’re inviting, and also consider the “feel” of the space, and whether it will create the atmosphere that will be comfortable and engaging for guests. For refreshments, tailor food and drink options to the time of day, have a vegetarian option, and avoid anything that’s likely to get stuck in teeth or requires cutlery.
Guideline 3: Do good PR.
With a clear purpose, location, and format, you can build marketing that grabs the attention of the people who your event aims to serve. Be clear on who you want your audience to be, send targeted invitations, and tailor marketing efforts to them. Social media is a powerful tool for audience targeting—depending on the size and scope of event you’re aiming for, you can target key communicators in the industries and communities you want to reach, and even ask them directly to share information forward. Network to network!
In your marketing, highlight something sexy about your event—do you have a VIP coming? Why are they awesome? Is the venue amazing? Unique or quirky refreshments on order? Is the format something new? Define a hook and work it into your marketing efforts. Finally, use the SquadUP app to start a conversation with potential guests, helping to break the ice before the event, while also keeping the event present in people’s minds.
Guideline 4: Be organized.
Even if the event is casual, the admin process shouldn’t be. Set up a registration process (like through our app), and send out at least one reminder for invitees and registered guests before the event (you can also do that through our app).
Also, make the invitations clear, with easy-to-follow directions to the venue, and a clear explanation of what the format will be. This helps guests come prepared, both mentally and practically (for example, preparing a pitch, bringing enough business cards, etc.).
Guideline 5: Help people feel comfortable.
The point of networking is to help people meet and make connections, but ironically sometimes the pressure to do that actually makes some people feel awkward, especially the uninitiated. You can help ease the awkwardness by:
- Welcoming people in and asking their names if you don’t know them.
- Having as many greeters as possible.
- Letting participants know the event schedule right at the start.
- Making mental notes of people’s names and what they do, so you can introduce people, especially people with similar interests.
- Spot people who look uncomfortable and striking up a conversation.
- Offer refreshments.
- Make an effort to thank everyone who showed up.
Guideline 6: Make legacy part of the experience.
Legacy is all about giving people something to take away from the experience, so they remember and draw from its value in the longer term. This also means they’re more likely to share the experience with others. A takeaway message is helpful, if it’s appropriate to the event; promotional items are a classic go-to, like tote bags and such. You can use promotional photos and video you capture, as well as event conversation and testimonials, to create an online or offline commemoration of the event.
But what really keeps an event present for folks is ongoing communication. For networking events, this is especially important, as it helps people to continue building relationships based on the event even after it’s over. You can keep the conversation going by continuing to use an event hashtag on social media after the event; membership to a social media group or email list can also be useful for some groups.
Guideline 7: Ask for feedback and follow up
You can do it the old-fashioned way and hand out comment cards at the end of the event, or you can send a message to guests afterwards, but make sure you make an effort to find out how valuable the event was for guests, what they liked, and if they have any comments that can help you make the next one even better. Ending with a question like “Overall, did you enjoy the event?” is always good, because usually people do.
Also, let people know how feedback will be used. You can even follow up later to explain how it was used, and to make them aware of the next event. This helps you build relationships with your networks while helping you create even better events—it’s a win-win.
Do you have an idea for a great networking event, or an experience to share on the topic? We’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below or tweet to us!