How To Run Successful Networking Events
By Sue Ellson BBus MPC CDAA ASA WV SPN
This article was originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141205032119-77832-how-to-run-successful-networking-events/
Lots of people know me as a networker. I have been to plenty of networking events and run plenty of networking events.
I have managed to keep getting regular crowds over many years for different topics, demographics, purposes, days, dates and times. For example, I managed to get over 40 guests at a local suburban business event on the day after a public holiday and during school holidays at 5:30pm with an entirely new audience of people with only four weeks notice!
I hope this blog post will give you ideas and tools to save a lot of time, money and effort!
1. Determine your purpose
If you have set up your group to achieve a particular goal, make sure it is authentic, realistic and easy to understand. People ‘buy’ products and services more often on the reason ‘why’ you do something rather than for ‘what’ you are doing. They can sense your passion and motivation and if it is congruent with their own or their personal aspirations, they are much more likely to get involved.
For example, I set up Newcomers Network as a result of my own personal challenges of moving from Adelaide in South Australia to Melbourne in Victoria. I provide information, events and advocacy for the benefit of newcomers and I am passionate about these people because I believe they are the true pioneers of modern society – they leave everything they know and love behind to recreate themselves in a new place. I have run networking events every month in Melbourne since 2004 (and set up volunteers to host events in Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth).
2. Choose the right format
If your purpose is to help people mix and mingle, they need to feel comfortable doing so. This usually means that you will have to have some sort of process to help make that happen. You have a variety of choices:
- very structured supervised process (like a BNI Group)
- standard format where expectations are met (guest speaker and networking)
- facilitated format where training style activities are included (similar to professional development seminars)
- social business casual format where it is very relaxed (reliant on individual personalities who ‘make’ the network work)
3. Select the right venue
Most networks seem to run at a very low cost level so all sorts of venues or rooms are used to try and make it free or affordable for the group that is meeting.
However, just because the room is free does not mean that the networking will happen.
You might think that meeting at a local pub is a bit too casual and possibly noisy, but if the service is good, people can easily buy their own refreshments and it is easy to get to via public transport or car, it could be better than a sterile board room in a high rise building with lavish catering.
I am also really keen to encourage more people to set up networks outside of the central business district in a capital city. These central locations are often chosen to ‘make it easier’ for more people to come to but after a while, many people tire of travelling to a central destination. If you have the ability to run a local network in your local suburb (like I have with Camberwell Network), consider this option as doing business close to home is so much easier than travelling all the time.
4. Pick a regular day, date and time
There will always be one or more people who cannot make your set day, date or time, so don’t bother trying to pick the perfect time. For example, I am not a morning person so meeting for breakfast is quite unappealing to me – but there are many breakfast networking groups that are very successful! (and I do still attend breakfasts occasionally)
Think about your demographic and choose your meetup time accordingly. For example, I have run a variety of events and forums for the Australian Human Resources Institute and because a large number of the attendees are usually mothers with children, we find that having events at lunchtime when the children are at school gives these women a much greater chance of being able to attend.
Good date examples are the second Wednesday of every month at 5:30pm or the third Tuesday of March, June and September at midday if you were hosting the events quarterly.
You also need to plan a time duration. One hour is generally too short. 90 minutes with some leeway for people who like to stay longer usually works well.
5. Make it easy to maintain your standards
Once you have decided on your format and style, you need to make an effort to keep it consistent and still allow for improvements, but not to let your standards slip.
Many networks are started and don’t continue because it took too much effort to set up and maintain it.
If the second event is not as good as the first, you may quickly notice a drop in interest.
It takes a concerted effort or a very comprehensive well organised process to keep people showing up on a regular basis. I use a variety of techniques to make it as easy as possible to maintain momentum. This includes:
- identifying the best places to promote the events including your own website (where you also keep an archive of past events) and specific industry portals
- sending regular reminders to an email list (and I constantly source new subscribers)
- a simple registration process to capture emails for the list (I use Eventbrite because it also has the social sharing facility)
- regular posts and event listings on various social media (I use Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and AroundYou but also recommend a range of others here)
- identifying centres of influence and inviting them to share the event details directly through their networks (LinkedIn is a great research tool for this purpose)
It takes a considerable amount of time to do this in the initial stages, but once you have done it, it can easily be completed within an hour a month and then you just turn up at the designated start time and enjoy the event.
6. Include some key components
First impressions are extremely important at networking events. You need to find as many greeters as possible to welcome people on arrival and introduce them to others. During the event, you need to observe anyone on their own and reconnect them with someone who may share a similar interest.
Take some photos and share these on social media. Meetup is well organised with the ability to add photos but also say ‘nice to see you’ with just the click of a button, post a comment or ask questions afterwards.
Make an effort to say ‘thank you for coming’ to every single person who attends. Don’t leave without saying good bye.
If you have an evaluation form to complete, make sure you include the question ‘Overall, did you enjoy the event?’ This will help the person retain good memories of their experience even if certain items were unappealing.
Remind people why your networking event is unique, of value to them or of value to their community. Bringing people together face to face is much more interesting and valuable than sitting on a computer and participating in a webinar or making a post online – so remember to acknowledge their effort in making the time to come and join the group (yes, I know, we are all busy…)
Complete all of your administration in a professional manner. Use proper registration for the event, and make sure you send out a reminder beforehand even if they have registered. Make sure your directions to the venue are easy to follow (and well signed) and have a welcoming arrival process. Ensure there are a variety of effective networking techniques available at the event and incorporate several ‘thanks for coming’ initiatives.
7. Find ways to follow up
Are there extra things that your guests can do after the event to gain more value from attending your networking group? If so, suggest that they email you for a ‘copy of content’ or post a question to continue a discussion online. Meeting face to face is the start of a business relationship but it can also be easier to maintain the relationship online.
Attend other networking events and share details of your networking events and remember to invite those people you have met to your events. Encourage your guests to go out and invite people they know to your next event. Offer ‘bring a friend’ events at least once a year or consider joining together with another network for jointly hosted events.
If people do request further information, make sure you send it. Follow up new attendees with a phone call and personally thank them for attending. Consider emailing everyone who did attend (after each event) and remind them of various items from above that are relevant for your group. You can be quite prescriptive and suggest that they ‘put event dates in their calendar’ and ‘like us on Facebook’ etc.
8. Get more people involved
For your network to be sustainable, see if you can hand pick some key organisers to assist you. Not people with ideas and no action. Allocate tasks to each organiser and encourage them to attend every event and share details with everyone they know (don’t just rely on your mailing list).
Add at least one or two new people to your organising group per year as you will probably find that one or two people will leave for various reasons.
9. Systemise your processes
Write down your procedures so that if you are not available for any reason, the instructions can easily be given to someone else on your behalf. Once established, keep your records organised and well maintained. Make sure you complete your tasks for each event and don’t ever fall into the trap of assuming that what works today will work tomorrow – you may need to do a few extra things every so often to keep up your momentum.
10. Make sure you enjoy it
A successful network is not all work and no play.
Good networks are fun. They inspire and refresh you. They provide support and encouragement and sometimes they challenge you (and you may need that!).
They usually have great leaders, highly motivated to share, grow and learn. They are inclusive of all personality types but are very clear on purpose so that they can attract people with similar aspirations. They are safe and friendly places where people laugh and joke about their successes and failures.
Over time, networks can help build relationships, provide opportunities for collaboration and change the way a community or industry responds to market conditions. They are usually at the forefront of innovation because real stories from real life are shared in real time (usually without editing and sanitising from the political correctness education brigade).
Personally, I have sourced many work and business opportunities and ideas and a huge range of friends and acquaintances. I am constantly on the hunt for ways to improve the networks I run.
What I have learnt most recently is that if you have these five elements, more people are likely to show an interest in attending.
- good content that focuses on basic theories
- more content related to the latest news or innovations
- a sexiness factor (celebrity, high profile person, amazing venue or refreshments, interesting and engaging format)
- effective event marketing targeted for the right audience (and they actually see it at least three times before the event and register)
- a venue, location and time that suits all of the above with effective administration, before the event, at the event and after the event
If you have any other ideas you would like to share, please comment below. I am also happy for you to include a link to the network/s you run or are involved in.
Great networks support other networks – because we all have slightly different purposes and ideal attendees and we love networking!