Since setting up my business, nearly 3 years ago, I've attended plenty of business networking events.
Networking has played a vital part in me growing my business.
Obviously it won't come as a surprise to say I've organised a fair few networking events in my time as well. My first role in the events industry was running business networking events and conferences for c-level executives and their teams.
Experiencing networking events from both sides of the welcome desk - as both attendee and organiser - here are my 6 top tips for hosting a successful networking event.
From the moment someone registers or RSVPs your 'event experience' begins. Give them a great first impression before you event has opened it's doors or allowed the wine to breathe. A welcoming email sent as soon as they have booked is vital, people need to know their place is confirmed. Include link to save the date in their calendar so they don't double book themselves.
If there is a long lead time between invitation and event send a short email remind. Include links to social media platforms so they can connect with others attending the event.
Finally, just the day before email to confirm final event details such as timings and locations and map links.
How will they find you?
If your venue is big or taking place in a private area of a bar make it easy for your guests to find you. You need to make this as easy as possible.
If the venue is big give them some directions to your area. If the venue or bar is busy with other events or members of the public then describe where you will be in the room.
I know from experience it's extremely frustrating if it's not clear where you need to go.
Speak to the venue and find out where they are putting you, then let your attendees know in advance. If the venue can provide signage take advantage of this. It's great for getting your brand out there and for helping people find you.
I have a very distinct look, I often tell my guests to look out for the guy with big glasses and a waistcoat...if you know what you might be wearing or yourself have distinctive look then use this to your advantage.
Help your venue help you
A good relationship with your venue is vital to ensure a good networking event. Make sure they know the timings of your event so you don't have to keep chasing them for things. Provide them with and event 'run sheet' and ensure the team is clear on when food is required, when drinks should be served and when key moments in your event are going to take place such as speeches or presentations.
Make sure they know your name and the name of your event as well. In the past I've arrived at venues and given the name of the event and the front of house team have looked at me with blank faces. Not great!
Name Badges...Old Fashioned or Still Relevant?
In my time doing events and attending them I've heard all kinds of views on the use of name badges during a networking event.
Some think they are unnecessary and 'old school'.
I think they are still important for networking events, especially when there is lots of people.
Networking for some can be an extremely nervous experience so seeing someones name makes it a lot easier for your guests start conversations and make connections.
Warm welcomes and introductions
As I said networking can be an quite nerve wracking. It can make a huge difference if you make your guests feel welcome. Don't just tick them off the list and gesture them inside the room. If you can, ask them a question about how their day has been or talk about the weather outside.
Allowing people to talk about something as soon as they arrive will immediately dampen any nerves.
Then take them into the room and introduce them to someone. This again will really help the more introverted networker.
You will probably need a welcome team at your event to facilitate this but this adds to the first impression your guests have of your event which is really important.
If there is an agenda or structure for your event briefly explain this to your guests so they have an idea of how the event will run. People like to know how things work and whats going to happen so there aren't any 'surprises'.
The Online After Party
Your event isn't over when bars closes or the lights are turned off. The post event communication is really important.
Within 24 hours email your guest and thank them for coming.
Send them details of your next event in your calendar which would be of interest to them. If you don't have anything coming up ask them to connect with your social media channels and connect online.
If you had a photographer at the event email everyone with a link to see the photos. If it takes a few days or even a week to get the photos from your photographer this gives you a lovely excuse to send another email thus extending the life of your event.
Upload the photos onto a social network such as Facebook. Give your guests the opportunity to tag themselves. It's great advertising for your event. Social endorsement!
Memorable networking events can be really effective for growing your businesses and making future connections. Events are all about the experience, so make sure the one they have with you is a good one.
I'd love to hear from you about what you've seen in the past that's stood out for you at a networking event. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.