Facilitating great networking at your event is a lot of work. Yet, it’s incredibly important because it’s one of the top draws of events. There are many ways to promote better networking but most of them boil down to this recipe for success.
Networking has a strange appeal. It draws crowds and terrifies all at the same time. It’s one of the main reasons people attend professional events but it’s also dreaded by introverts. Creating a successful networking event means you’ll secure a place in your attendees’ hearts and they’ll be more likely to attend your events in the future. Let’s face it, while there’s plenty of online competition for networking opportunities, it’s still in-person that seals the largest deals.
Whether you’re hosting a monthly event, a local gathering, or a larger conference, ensuring you have the right mix of people and making those attendees feel at home are key to your event’s success. But you’ll need a few other things as well:
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Steps for a Successful Networking Event:
- Know what your attendees want from the networking. Knowing what your audience needs and their expectations for your event networking will get you started on the right track.
- Consider the niche. There are thousands of networking opportunities out there, both in-person and online. Why should someone choose your event? If you have a niche event that draws a crowd almost exclusively, you can stand out from the others.
- Require registration. Even if your event is free, always require registration. Signing up makes people more likely to come and you’ll have a better head count. This is important in increasing networking opportunities. If it’s always the same people at your event, the networking will become stagnant.
- Use targeted social media to reach people. Get the word out through social media. Target the type of people you want at your event.
- Select a venue that fits your event. If you want to improve networking at your event, you need to ensure there’s a nice flow to the room.
- Assist in the networking. It doesn’t happen organically. You’ll need to be involved.
Tools That Can Help Improve Networking
Many people make the mistake of believing that networking happens organically. While that does occur to some extent, the best networking requires assistance. Here are a few tools that can help you improve the networking opportunities at your next event:
- An app. There are many event apps that not only offer networking features but can also match up attendees, vendors, and sponsors who are looking for the same things. Speakers can even use these types of features as they may be looking to connect with someone before their session if they’re interested in real-world examples for their presentation.
- An online community. An online community can help people network prior to coming to your event and it can assist in keeping attendees in touch after they’ve left. With an online community you can also stay connected to your attendees between events.
- A Facebook group. These groups can be public or private but it’s a good way to keep people interacting on a platform they’re likely to be on anyway. An added bonus of a public group is that Facebook information often ranks higher organically in search than other content.
- A blog. A blog can excite potential attendees and give them a better understanding of the type of people who will be at your event. By sharing this information, you can attract more people who will make your networking worthwhile.
- A LinkedIn group. This is a great place for congregating if your event draws a professional crowd. You can pose all sorts of questions and encourage attendees as well as potential attendees to share and connect with the community.
- Wearables. Wearables can allow people to see where others are so if there’s a good networking match for your attendee on the exhibit floor, they’ll know it (if they enable the function).
The Secret Recipe to a Successful Networking Event
Bringing it all together takes effort. Here’s what you need to do for successful networking at your event:
1. Determine Your Purpose and Your Audience (Give Them What They Want)
What is your measure of a successful networking at this event? Once you figure that out it’s easy to understand who would attend. When hosting an event, give thought to the demographic you are trying to attract and what they want from attending. Are they looking for mentors, jobs, or sales? Understanding the type of networking they’re most interested in will help you with the matchmaking.
2. Consider the Niche
If you host a broad cattle call of an event with very little targeted marketing, you had better add a few fields on the registration form. In order to help create a good networking environment, you have to know what attendees want. If you’re not serving a niche where it’s obvious, you’ll need to ask. The more specific you can be on the invite list, the more opportunities they will feel they have to reach people like them or in their area of interest.
3. Require Registration
If you don’t require registration at your event, it will be difficult to get a head count together and you may miss out on the crucial questions that will help you understand what your audience is looking for and who they are.
In order to have successful networking you want to create a balanced dynamic. For instance, if you’re hosting an event and everyone is at the same level in their career or looking for the same thing (thus competing with one another in a field of candidates all looking for the same and no one in a position to give it to them), networking opportunities will be few and far between. You need to know something about your demographic. The registration process allows you to ask questions.
Requiring registration also helps you be more of a connector. You know who’s coming and you can consider a game plan of introductions ahead of time as a start. You’ll still have new connections to make when everyone shows up but it can help you begin the process by knowing about it ahead of time.
In addition, a sign-up also conveys a limited form of obligation to the attendee. They know you’re considering them in the head count. Does that mean there won’t be any no-shows? Of course not, but it will help make that number smaller.
4. Use Targeted Social Media to Reach People
Social media is a big world. Sending out messages to everyone doesn’t do you any good unless you are hosting an international music festival. Instead, use your limited marketing time to target your ideal demographic. Don’t waste your precious resources on people who aren’t a good fit for your event. If you’re paying for social media promotion, use the platform’s tools to customize your audience reach. It will save you money and allow you to be more effective.
Finally, don’t ignore your email list. Sue Ellson, an independent LinkedIn Specialist, suggests in her article “How to Run Successful Networking Events” that you should be “sending regular reminders to an email list” and have “...a simple registration process to capture emails for the list.”
5. Select a Venue that Fits Your Event
You know your event goals, now select a venue that is fitting for them. While bars and restaurants are popular locations for evening events, hosting them there often means it’s difficult to hear, the lighting isn’t good, and some people may not want to be in that atmosphere. Your venue sets the stage for your event networking.
There’s also nothing that says you have to host it in a traditional space. Just look for a spot that encourages mingling, has good flow, and enables people to talk and hear themselves. Some attendees want comfortable seating for networking because it allows them to settle in and get to know someone, while others prefer high cocktail tables that encourage mingling. Offer both so that no matter what their preferences your attendees are comfortable in the environment.
6. Assist in the Networking
As much as we think of ourselves as social creatures, networking doesn’t happen entirely on its own. As mentioned above, the type of people you invite are important as is the venue. You’ll want to make introductions based on what attendees and others are looking for.
Some event professionals sort attendees into groups to help encourage new relationships. Many people have a tendency to stay in the group they came with or mix with only those they know. Sorting or assigning people to different stations or groups may take them out of their comfort zone but it will also aid in new introductions.
Encourage networking among your attendees. Some people think of networking as a bad word and assume that means talking to people who are always looking over their shoulder. It needn’t be that way. Here are a few ideas on promoting networking at your event.
Promotion Tips for Networking at Events
Promoting networking at your event will help attendees with their professional growth, help set expectations, generate discussion, and assist people in making the type of connections which will cause them to return next year. Promoting networking is similar to a call-to-action in content. It tells people what’s expected of them and moves them towards a desired action.
Educating attendees on how to network is essential. Give them a few tips about how networking is like developing any relationship. Don’t make it all about you or come across in a sales-y way. Listen and be a good conversationalist. These tips may seem like common sense but they’ll go a long way to help those who are unfamiliar with the techniques.
It’s also important to share the value of networking and why it’s critical to your attendees’ success. Here’s what they need to know:
Networking Forges Business Relationships
Whether they’re looking to buy, sell, or increase their personal branding, who you know is how it happens. Making connections is an important part of building know, like, and trust. The people you meet and network with may become valuable relations in the future. Both of your needs may change but the connection should be nurtured if you want to build a professional network.
Networking Facilitates Learning
Networking allows attendees to learn outside of the sessions. The ‘hallway track’ is a nice place for exchange and the discussion and real-life examples can lead to increased knowledge and mastery of the concepts presented. Sessions naturally lend themselves to discussion and can be good icebreakers for attendees who hate small talk.
Networking Provides a ‘Lunch Buddy’
A good event organizer will help attendees network before the actual event begins so that they can attend the event already knowing a few other attendees. Not knowing anyone can make people feel anxious, particularly when it comes to mealtime and other seated events.
Setting up a social media group or online community can help people get to know attendees virtually and make plans to meet up at the event. Some organizations also use codes (like a sticker on a name tag) that indicates a first-time attendee. The veterans of the event are then encouraged to engage with the newbie to ensure they become acclimated quickly and have a ‘lunch buddy.’
Why Networking Benefits Your Event
Networking is critical to a successful event because good relationships among attendees help with next year’s ticket sales but it actually does much more than that. Here are a few things about networking that help you as an event planner as well. Networking...
- Saves money on entertainment. When attendees are networking, the relationships being built are the entertainment. People who are connecting with others don’t need Hollywood-style, flashy entertainment. They have one another.
- Makes your event more valuable. If your event becomes one with a reputation of unparalleled matchmaking and valuable networking opportunities, you can command top dollar on ticket prices.
- Grows your event. Again, networking is one of the top reasons people come to events. As your event’s reputation builds as an ideal place to network, you can increase the size of your event exponentially as more and more people want to be a part of it.
Is In-Person Networking Dead?
The answer to this question could fall along a generational divide but the truth is there are certain things electronics will never take the place of such as:
- The confidence of a firm handshake
- A sideways glance or someone looking past you (it’s much easier to tell disinterest in person, which can be a good thing)
- The energy exchanged from someone getting visibly excited about your idea
- The conveyed emotion behind facial expressions
- The excitement you get when you hear someone interesting speak
Online networking doesn’t make that possible. It strips us of some very human characteristics that we have relied upon to be able to make good business decisions. According to a Forbes study, 77% of business executives prefer in-person meetings because of the ability to read nonverbal cues. In-person networking will continue to be popular for as long as video calls have problems with occasional blurriness.
You may be wondering if networking at events is still a main component of a successful event or if it’s needed with today’s online world. But as most people understand who you know is incredibly important to your business and your career. Not all of that can be done online. So go plan your in-person networking strategies and enjoy the things you don’t get online like those accidental drink spills when you bump into people and those hardy laughs that are contagious.