Networking events offer many benefits for the savvy entrepreneur and the professional. A well-staged networking event allows you to make new connections with others in your industry, share knowledge and experience, and make new opportunities that will benefit both your business as well as the business with whom you partner.
But staging a successful networking event isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds, and some small business owners find themselves tripping at the first hurdle. But never fear, a few simple tips will help you to plan and execute any type of networking event that bring the real results every professional is looking for.
1. Understand the purpose of your event.
Before you can even begin planning your event, you must thoroughly understand the purpose of the event itself. Are you trying to create a positive relationship between professionals and an organization? Are you trying to educate? Understanding the purpose of the event will help inform all your subsequent decisions, including venue and guest list.
Knowing the purpose of your event and the direction you want to take it in will help you set parameters for your planning.
2. Setting Parameters
When setting parameters, you’re creating a set of guidelines for yourself to stick to throughout your planning. How many people are you inviting? What type of programming, if any, will your event include? These types of decisions impact the space you ultimately select and the service you strive for.
For example, if you are hosting a smaller event with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, an environment that promotes social interaction and provides a few places for attendees to sit as they move a leisurely pace would be most desired. On the contrary, if you want to plan a larger event with a guest speaker and program, you’ll want a space that not only promotes mingling, but ample room for attendees to sit and gather as they attentively listen to a presentation.
3. Time and Place
Before you can set a firm date for your networking event, you’ll need a suitable venue. The venue really is a key component in making your event a success. Choose a few tentative dates, and look specifically for facilities that will accommodate your programming and guest count, while providing amenities that you need such as ample parking or state of the art built-in audio visual equipment. It’s always important to make it a point to tour the venue in person, as online galleries may not do it justice. Use the Rule of 5 to help you choose a venue that fits your organization best.
Whether you are hosting an internal networking event between major departments of your company or a networking event for industry professionals, it is important to provide refreshments to your guests. Now, many networking events do not provide a full course meal, but heavy hors d’oeuvres and luncheons are really not out of the norm. You’ll want to keep your attendees fueled for the duration of your event, regardless if it is during the day or evening. Buffets and hors d’oeuvre stations are a great way to plan a menu that is easy to enjoy on the move as attendees make connections. View our Meeting Packages for more options.
It might seem silly for a premier event caterer to tell you to advertise your networking event, but we’ve seen many networking events fall short of their potential due to low turnout. This is a crucial step. A networking event is only as good as its attendees and if you don’t have any, or many, then you’ll likely not meet your goals. An event with a low turnout will not give you the return on investment that you are looking for. Send out emails or print mailers, follow up with timely reminders, and don’t underestimate the power of having a small registration fee for attendees to secure their spot. Use phrasing such as ‘Limited Seating’ when advertising to encourage people to act quickly. Individuals are more likely to attend an event they have a small financial investment in as opposed not.
6. Publicize your event agenda.
Not only is this a great way to get attendees excited about coming to your event, it also helps garner more registrations. A clear and easy to understand schedule of events helps individuals decide if they will attend, especially when there is a worthy guest speaker.
An example of an event schedule for a half day networking event might look like this:
7:30-8:00 – Registration & Continental Breakfast
8:00-8:15 – Introduction of event and speaker
8:15-10:00 – Guest Speaker
10:00-11:00 – Networking
11:00-12:00 – Lunch
Not only should you publicize your agenda, publicize how many attendees you expect. This helps individuals gauge the number of business cards to bring.
Networking is an important aspect of any profession. Whether you want employees to network within your own company or with other businesses through a professional organization, a well-structured and worthwhile networking event takes careful planning and an attention to detail like any other event.