Networking is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to others in your industry, connect on a more personal level, and sell your brand or business in a non-intimidating way.
There are several ways in which networking events are run. Some are quite large with hundreds of people from all different business fields gathered together in one space on a monthly or quarterly basis. Others are limited to a school’s alumni group or focused on a certain area of business and might be held more frequently.
If you’ve thought about hosting your own networking event, this can be a good way to invite the kind of people you want to mingle with and learn from to help grow your network.
1. Venue location
First thing you’ll want to decide on is location. Pick a central spot. The venue you choose should be easily accessible for the majority of your group with plenty of parking available. It’s best to host your event during the week and acknowledge that people will be battling rush hour traffic to make it, so keep that in mind in terms of timing of the event as well.
You want to choose a space that has a welcoming environment, but isn’t too loud or overwhelming as you want your attendees to be able to hear each other speak. If you want to start small, a breakfast mixer might be the way to go and can be less intimidating than a larger mix and mingle.
2. Registration system
Create a system for how to register. Is it a paid event or will you offer it for free? If it’s paid, will you require guests to pay in advance or at the door? Work out this information ahead of time before advertising your event. Once people start arriving at the event, it can become chaotic, so having this settled ahead of time can prevent problems the day the event takes place.
If you require payment, Eventbrite or PayPal are two options that can help you easily track who has paid and who hasn’t. Place a sign for your event making it easy for people to know they’re in the right place.
You can do so by creating signs on strategic locations. This can easily be done by creating custom signs online by eSigns.com or any other online printing service providers that you’re familiar with – just choose a template and add the name of your event and any other special branding you’d like.
Many events now have a common hashtag that people can use to follow each other and the event online. This can be added to any signage, too.
When people check-into the event, make sure you provide name tags, so that it’s easy for others to introduce themselves. Depending on the industry, encourage guests to add their business’s social media handle to their name tags as well to automatically start building their network online.
After you’ve decided on a time and place, you can determine if it will be a coffee and pastries type of meeting or cocktails and appetizers type of event. If you partner with sponsors, they can help fund this cost, but you should budget this into your plan ahead of time. Remember the main focus is for people to talk with each other and not necessarily to eat. Make sure any hors d’oeuvres you offer are manageable to hold while standing or walking around.
4. Guest speakers
Many events are more successful if there is a guest speaker. Those in attendance will find value in hearing from someone reputable in the business who can share tips and insights for guests to take with them or participate in a Q&A session. If you plan to have your events be on a regular basis, you’ll want to line up speakers ahead of time and begin advertising weeks in advance. If you decide to have a speaker, make sure you have the right equipment set up, if necessary, such as a microphone, projector, or printed handouts. However, if you choose to host a smaller group, you won’t have to worry about this extra planning or cost.
5. Following up
Finally, don’t forget to follow-up after the event. Send an email thanking everyone for attending and include information about upcoming events. Create a shared document where everyone can list their LinkedIn profile, should they choose, to help stay connected. Encourage feedback so that you can improve your next event and as you grow, call on volunteers to help each one be a success.
Preparing for an event, it’s nice to be unique. However, what you want in a successful networking event is the one that is effective and efficient. With that said, you probably want to visit some events, note the pros and cons, and adopt some ideas for your event.