Modern forms of communication like texting, Skyping, and tweeting are fast and convenient. However, they can never replace person-to-person contact. This is why networking events are still relevant.
Meeting people face-to-face provides a form of communication that has almost become a lost art due to society becoming so ingrained in digital communication. Also keep in mind that one survey indicated that 84% of people prefer person-to-person meetings.
With this in mind, here are some tips to help you organize a networking event that will have people shaking hands, conversing, and mingling like the days before the Internet.
1. Venue Selection
Where will the event be held at? Of course, a networking event is about the people, not the venue. Nevertheless, an upscale venue does create a more positive and welcoming ambiance, which is important for helping to set the mood. When selecting a facility, look for a place with plenty of open space. There’s going to be a lot of walking and wandering as guests move from one fellow guest to the next to introduce themselves.
Furthermore, ask the venue administrator if the venue has the following amenities:
2. Charge a Fee
Charging an admission fee will be required in most instances in order to recoup the cost of running the event. However, even if it’s covered by a sponsor or through some other funding, you should still charge a fee. There’s several reasons for this.
First, people will perceive a higher value to the event if they have to purchase a ticket. This also improves the quality of the attendees; that is, people that are actually there to expand their network rather than people just checking it out simply because it was free. In addition, it also increases turnout rate since people don’t want to lose their money by not showing up for an event they already paid for.
If you really don’t need to recoup any costs, then announce that admission fees will be donated to charity.
3. Be a Part of the Event
You may be the event coordinator and perhaps even the host. However, that doesn’t mean you have to stay behind the scenes. Get out there and meet people as if you were one of the guests. It never hurts to expand your own network. You can also be a connector. If you met person A and person B, for example, then you can be the one to introduce person A to person B if you feel the two may be compatible or have common interests. Since you are kind of the authority figure, guests may be more inclined to meet someone based on your recommendation.
In a similar vein, you and staff can also actively act as anchors. As an anchor, your job is to scout for guests that are just sort of off in the corner by themselves. Approach these guests and offer to act as the middleman to help them meet new people.
4. Begin with an Icebreaker
Sometimes people naturally gravitate towards one another and get things going on their own. Other times, they need a slight push. This is where ice breakers come in. Whatever activity you pick, go with one that requires guests to break up into small groups of about 5-8. Each group can also be led by a facilitator.
The icebreaker should require people to interact to achieve a common objective. By “interact,” this means everyone. Most groups usually have one or two people that just kind of observe without really contributing.
Get everyone involved. One good icebreaker is the human knot where each person holds hands with two other people to form a knot. The objective is to form a perfect human chain circle without anyone releasing hands. It goes without saying that a lot of communication is required.
5. Promote the Event
Obviously, you need to promote the event to get people showing up at the doors. Create a Facebook event page; all other social media promotion should be to direct people to that page. You should also create an event hashtag and encourage followers to use it with every event-related post.
Be diverse in your outreach. This means going beyond Facebook and Twitter. Consider other media like LinkedIn (a definite must for business networking events), Instagram, Snapchat, and Google Plus. You can also host a live stream event via Skype or Google Hangout and invite confirmed attendees to join.
This will take place several days before the event and allow some of the guests to get to know each other beforehand. This makes the in-person introduction easier once they come face-to-face.
6. Make the Event Mobile-Centric
Find some ways to incorporate mobile devices. Perhaps you can create an icebreaker encouraging attendees to get in groups of three to four for a group selfie and upload the photo on Instagram using the event hashtag.
Throughout the event, you can also encourage guests to exchange numbers with at least one other person. Intermission, lunch, and after a presentation are good times for this. If guests have an event app installed, then you can send quick reminders asking guests if they have introduced themselves to someone new within the last 30 minutes or so.
7. Follow Up and Prepare for Event #2
Networking events should never be a one-time deal. Often, the relationships that are formed never evolve beyond social media friendship. If you have a follow-up event, then those people have another chance to reconnect face-to-face and perhaps take things a bit further this time around either business-wise or even just as friends.
Of course, you also want event #2 to be even better. After the first event, send out a post-event survey to find out what attendees liked and didn’t liked so much. Make improvements accordingly to increase retention while also recruiting first-time attendees.
Networking events help create business connections, and there is no such thing as having too many. It’s also just as rewarding if those relationships just end up as casual friendships. Either way, organizing a networking event is a great way for you and guests to expand their connections.
Dan McCarthy is an Event Manager at Ultimate Experience, an event management company based in the UK. Dan has 5 years of event project management under his belt. He has worked on many successful events, and currently he shares his knowledge by writing on the company blog. Follow him on Twitter @DanCarthy2.
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