Why is organising networking events important in a day and age when social media and live streaming can take care of most interactions? While teleconferencing may suffice in many instances, it simply can’t replace the organic rapport that often comes with a face-to-face interaction.
In one survey, 95% of respondents indicated that meeting people in person is essential for establishing long-term relationships. Here are some ideas for networking events to help kick off your next conference and getting attendees to exchange business cards.
1. Choose the Right Venue
Remember, that you’re trying to form a solid impression on your guests, so it pays off to invest in a venue that not only caters for your needs but is also a memorable place.
Given that this is a networking event, there should be plenty of roaming space for people to freely walk about and introduce themselves to other guests. A venue with an outdoor space may work well, you can look up Venueseeker for a list of available venues, many of which are located right in the heart of London or in the greater area.
When selecting a venue, there are dozens of additional factors to consider:
- Parking space and valet availability
- Room capacity limit
- In-house catering availability
- Custodian and security personnel
- Proximity to shuttles and hotels
- Handicap accomodations
2. Number of attendees
You should have an estimate of the number of people attending. If the numbers are exceptionally high, then consider activities or icebreakers where guests can be divided into groups. Networking is more effective when people are within a smaller group where they can form a deeper connection with their designated team.
Remember, networking is about the number of people you can form a quality connection with; quality is the keyword here. It’s far better to form a meaningful rapport with five to 10 people, than to meet 50 people where you do nothing more than introduce yourself and exchange business cards.
When organising networking events, try to divide members into groups according to the information they inputted during their registration process. Attendees that are freelance graphic designers, for example, can be paired with attendees that run an online marketing business.
3. Consider a two-day event
If budget allows, consider a two day event. If you have a big turnout, it simply won’t be possible for attendees to mix and mingle with every other guest. With a two or three-day event, there is more time for people to meet new faces and to cement relationships.
If you divided people into groups the first day, then mix the groups up on the second day. Furthermore, a longer event means more workshops for people to attend. Workshops can include icebreakers and teamwork exercises that require groups to actually interact.
On the subject of networking, groups can also include staff members. Networking should also be taking place between company administrators and guests rather than strictly between attendees. The attendees that your staffers formed a bond with may potentially become future customers.
4. Sit-down or freestyle
When organising networking events, do you normally opt for a sit-down or freestyle type of conference? A sit-down event is normally more organised and structured with assigned seating. Groups are formed beforehand, and there is a clear-cut process involving introductions, icebreakers, and so on.
In a freestyle event, guests are usually let loose once they check in. Attendees are free to mingle as they please or keep to themselves. Tradeshows are good examples of freestyle events, since guests are free to explore the venue and individual booths.
Since guests don’t always mingle on their own, a sit-down event is usually the recommended option. This is especially the case if this is your first networking event since you don’t know how receptive attendees will be.
5. Be selective about catering
Catering is often an afterthought, but the quality of food has more impact than most people realize. While it’s not necessary to serve lobster tails and gourmet truffles, you shouldn’t be serving cafeteria-quality food either.
Lunch time is also a perfect opportunity for networking. For this reason, consider a buffet-style meal if your budget allows for it. When people can freely get out of their seats, they might run into other guests and casually start a conversation. CreateFood is a great catering service that complements nicely with most London venues.
On the subject of food, you should also consider an open bar for serving cocktails. This creates a bar-scene aura, which is always helpful for starting a conversation. The bar can be kept up throughout the event.
6. Find the right speaker
The best ideas for networking events always involve a guest speaker in some extent or another. The presenter should be charismatic and be able to keep an audience attentive. If guests are nodding off or texting in the middle of a presentation, then the speaker is failing at his job.
The speaker needs to engage with the audience. This could be in the form of asking questions or asking members to come up on stage and volunteer for a demonstration.
If the presentation is quite lengthy, then there should be brief intermissions for the audience to stretch or use the restroom. Right before releasing the audience for their break, the speaker should ask them to use the moment to exchange business or social media information with at least one other person.
7. Promote your event
The networking actually begins before the event. You should be heavily promoting your event through your various social network channels. Also use this moment to encourage networking. Here’s the thing: your followers are following you, but are they following each other?
Use your posts to encourage followers to begin friending one another. Once they’re friends on social media, they’ll likely have a better rapport when they meet in person come event time.
Keep this in mind: when organising networking events, you have to be just as proactive during the pre-event phase. Aside from social media conversations, you can also organise a pre-event teleconference where members can freely join the discussion and introduce themselves to the people that they’ll soon meet face-to-face.
8. Allow equal speaking time
Those with extensive experience organising networking events often recommend a few strategies to ensure everyone gets an equal amount of speaking time. This is especially useful for workshops with attendees broken down into small groups. This gives members who tend to be on the shy side a chance to speak up.
If the group is seated around a table, then you can have what’s known as “one person, one mic.” This means the person that’s speaking should be the only person doing so without other members jumping in until it’s their turn. The facilitator should enforce this rule to prevent people from speaking over one and other
Discussion groups usually have one or two members who tend to be observers rather than actively participate in the conversation. Get them involved by politely asking them if they have anything they would like to share.
9. Continue to network after the event
Networking begins before the event, and it continues after the event. It’s important that you follow up with attendees within 12 to 24 hours post event. Send out an optional survey to collect feedback. Ask questions regarding the number of contacts that were made and whether they intend on following through with those contacts.
If responses indicated that attendees didn’t really mingle all that much, then what steps can be taken in the future to encourage more active networking?
Finally, your company should also have made a few connections of its own. Be sure to follow up on them. Send a quick thank you, add them to your subscriber’s list, and send them some sort of gift, such as a discount code as a thank you for their time.
Planning an event?
These ideas for networking events represent just the tip of the iceberg. Getting an event underway begins with a plan, and you can start by visiting Ultimate Experience to get the process underway.
Did you find this article useful? If you have some networking experience of your own, don’t be shy about sharing it in the comments section below.