How to Create the Perfect Networking Event
Just because you put together a “networking event” and people show up, who appear to be networking, doesn’t mean you put on a successful event. More than likely you are just seeing the self-promoters doing lots of talk and very little listening.
Successful business networking events are consciously designed to create opportunities for people to build relationships!
Business networking has three primary benefits:
- Meeting new people and building sustainable, long-term relationships.
- Exchanging ideas and learning from other professionals.
- Building relationships that result in sales and referrals.
Here’s how to create the perfect business networking event that includes these three benefits:
1. DEFINE YOUR NETWORKING PURPOSE
This sounds simple, but it is extremely important. If the purpose is to help people connect and then your activities don’t promote this, you don’t have a networking event.
Here’s a BAD EXAMPLE of a common networking event:
- Attendees show up to a “Networking Luncheon”
- They pay for a lunch (that doesn’t look much better than a school lunch)
- They find a table to sit at (usually with someone they know already)
- They sit there playing on their phone, checking email, while some announcements are given
- They create some small talk with others on the table
- They most likely get pitched on someone else’s product or service
- They spend the rest of the time not really listening to a guest speaker promoting their product, service, or discussing a topic that doesn’t have much “intellectual benefit”
- They check their phone and act like they have an urgent message in order to leave quickly
- They go back to work and feel behind because the last hour or two was a waste of time.
- After a while, they quit showing up to “networking events”
If the purpose was to connect with others at this event, it failed because it was left to chance.
If the purpose was to create some intellectual benefit, it failed because it was not promoted that way.
If the purpose was to sell a product or service, it failed because no relationships where established.
2. OUTLINE YOUR EVENT WITH PLANNED ACTIVITIES TO ENSURE YOUR PURPOSE(S) ARE BEING MET
Create a simple outline of the event with activities that align with your purpose and benefits.
3. WELCOME ATTENDEES (AS THEY ARRIVE) WITH GENUINE ENTHUSIASM AND ENERGY
You can’t fake this. Be glad to see people and greet them by first name if you know it. Don’t be overbearing or act like a First Grader who just ate 15 candy bars! Make eye contact, smile, shake their hand, express to them that you are glad to see them (or meet them), ask them a good question, or ask them about something that they have shared with you.
4. PROVIDE EACH ATTENDEE WITH A NAME TAG
The First and Last Name is mandatory, but the business name is optional. You can either have one that you’ve printed off (more professionally) or you can have one that you write their name on. It’s best to have a good marker and someone with good hand writing do this. If you do a lanyard, make sure their name is printed on both sides, as lanyards have a tendency to get flipped over!
* Having a name tag, allows people to connect more easily because it takes out the psychological barrier caused from not remembering someone’s name.
IMPORTANT: Make sure the name tag is placed in an area that is visible to others. Watch for jackets, coats, sweaters, hair, etc., that can get in the way. Remind people to keep name tag visible.
5. PROVIDE EACH ATTENDEE WITH AN AGENDA & INSTRUCTIONS (VERBAL AND PRINTED)
- Include a place to take notes about others they meet.
- Let each guest what they should do next (get in line for lunch and then find an open seat).
- Explain to them what is in the packet and the benefit they will get today.
- Make sure to provide pens on the table.
*If you have a system or a tool (like Networkr w/it’s Relationship Beacon Technology) to assign seats based on industry, relationship levels, last time someone sat by someone else, etc., you will create more opportunities (and value) for you attendees.
**Assigning seats can also create a feeling a safety and security for those who don’t feel comfortable meeting new people (because everyone is being assigned a seat and they don’t have to make that choice). EXTREMELY POWERFUL!
6. PROVIDE MINTS AND TOOTHPICKS ON EACH TABLE
This is extremely helpful, and comforting, especially if food is served.
7. GIVE A 5-MINUTE WARNING BEFORE THE EVENT STARTS
This gives attendees time to get settled in and ready to participate. This is another important psychological principle of feeling like we know what’s happening.
8. BEGIN EVENT WITH AN INTERRUPTER
To get everyone’s attention, use some kind of interrupter that gets people to stop what they are doing. Examples include:
- A funny, short video clip
- Music starting
- Music getting louder
- An intro tune
*Be consistent in what you use at every event and people will begin to recognize it as the signal to begin.
9. WELCOME THE GROUP TO THE EVENT
You will need to explain the purpose and how each of them will benefit from the event. Show them how to use the packet with the agenda and note section. Quickly go over the agenda.
Move into the announcements, news, and do any giveaways. Generally speaking, doing giveaways, raffles, drawings, at the end of the event is not as effective. People don’t like to wait for things, they like to be rewarded as quickly as possible.
11. DO A CONNECTING ACTIVITY
Create a simple and short connecting activity at the beginning of your event. Don’t assume people will understand what you want them to do. Be specific in your explanation, give clear guidelines, and show them an example of what you’re wanting them to do.
*Share and explain this to the group
“To start off we are going to do a connecting activity called: Know-U.”
“The purpose of the activity is to get to know the people at your table more personally, rather than what’s on their business card. People like to do business with people they know, like, and trust. So let’s get a little personal…”
“Here’s how it works:
Each person on the table will have 2 minutes to share one of the following:
- The best vacation you have ever been on
- The worst road trip experience you’ve experienced.
- In 30 seconds, share your business and what value you provide.”
*It’s best to have these on a slide (PowerPoint) and/or printed on paper in front of each attendee.
“I’ve asked someone at each table to keep track of the time on their phone to let you know when your time is up.”
*You can also choose to do this yourself and the attendees know you will be keeping time. It’s best if they can see the time and have some kind of audible noise signaling the end of their time.
EMPHASIZE THE FOLLOWING: “It is important that everyone keeps to the time. When your time is up and if you’re not done, you will need to stop, even if it’s mid-sentence, and let the next person go. I’m sure you will find time later to finish.”
“I encourage you to take some notes to help you remember what you learn about others.”
“I will show you an example of what I mean.”
*Have your phone/timer ready and then share with the group one of your experiences (2 minutes or less) and what your business is and the value you provide (30 seconds).
12. WRAP UP & REINFORCE
Quickly wrap up/summarize the connecting activity and reinforce the benefit of what they just did, which was connecting with people on a more personal level and building stronger trust.
13. MOVE INTO YOUR TRAINING
Move into you training or presentation portion of the event. Give clear instructions on the purpose, what they will gain from it, and how to get the most out of it. Also, be clear on the time allotted and how the event will end (interrupter to end or when they are done they can leave).
Regardless of who is training or presenting, make sure they are prepared with a purpose that will benefit the attendees. You will want to share with them ahead of time your expectations for the event (i.e. attendees will understand the purpose, they will understand the benefits, and they will know how to get results from material presented).
14. SUM IT UP WITH A CALL-2-ACTION
Close up the event by again summarizing the benefits from attending. This is a psychological reinforcement technique that helps attendees get more value.
Give attendees a CALL-2-ACTION, something they can do outside of the event that will an extra benefit from attending.
An example of this would be reminding the attendees to schedule one lunch appointment with someone they met today.
15. THANK YOU’S, HANDSHAKES, & FIST BUMPS
As attendees are leaving, make sure you are there (by the exit or close by) to thank them for coming. Shake some hands, give some fist bumps, and ALWAYS BE GENUINE!