Networking events are powerful ways to connect people together. They give strangers the opportunity to meet, engage, and form long lasting personal and professional relationships.
Hosting a networking event is quite different than hosting a dinner, luncheon, conference, or lecture. Instead of planning every every minute of the event, your job is to create an atmosphere that facilitates conversation and then get out of the way.
How do you make a networking event successful? Follow these ten steps.
Step 1: Focus on a Narrow Niche
The best networking events have a narrow focus. This ensures your guests have common ground to talk with one another and they’ll get the most benefit out of the event.
Imagine this: You invite a general group of dentists to an event. You end up with an orthodontist, an oral surgeon, a periodontist, and a pediatric general dentist. They all work with teeth, but their specialties means they have unique problems and experiences. If, for instance, you created an event only for pediatric dentists, they would have an easier time relating to one another.Hosting a networking event is quite different than hosting a dinner, luncheon, conference, or lecture. Click To Tweet
If you don’t focus on a niche, there’s a good chance some of your guests will fail to meet anyone who adds value to their lives and careers. This means they’ll regret attending.
Step 2: Choose the Right Format for Your Audience
Your networking event can be anything you want. People don’t have rigid expectations about the format, like they would a wedding, award ceremony, or lecture.
But it’s important to match the format to your audience. Ask yourself what kind of event your guests need to get the most value from their experience.
For instance, a small group of scrappy entrepreneurs who know one another might be content with an informal gathering at a restaurant, or a group activity like hiking or camping. But a gathering of world class law firms might call for a fancy venue, multiple dinner courses, and a podium for speeches.
Furthermore, think about your attendees’ goals. Do they want to create one or two intimate relationships, or do they want to connect with as many people as possible?
Step 3: Devise a Responsible Budget
No matter the size of your networking event, it’s important to create and stick to an event budget. A budget prevents you from overspending and helps you make choices.
Once you know what you can spend and what you want to spend, you can decide if you’ll self-fund the event, charge admission, or seek outside sponsorship.
Don’t be afraid to charge a reasonable ticket price for your event. Many people will gladly pay to spend time with other like-minded people. Putting a value on your event makes people think higher of it. Plus, it gives you freedom to host a nicer event.
Read our full guide on budgets: The Basics of Building a Practical Event Budget
Step 4: Use Targeted Promotions
Casting a wide advertising net doesn’t work well when you’re trying to reach a niche group of people. You’ll have to use marketing techniques that target the right people.
Visit Facebook or LinkedIn groups that pertain to your event’s niche. Let them know you’re planning an event and looking for feedback and attendees.
Facebook advertising is a great tool because you can target your ads based on the recipients job and interests. For instance, a real estate lawyer who’s interested in career development is a prime target to advertise a real estate law networking event.
You’ll find Google ads useful too. Purchase ads for terms people use to search for networking opportunities or communities in your event’s niche.
It might be tedious, but sometimes sending cold emails is the best way to find guests for your networking event. Find relevant companies and ask them to post about your event on their website or in-office bulletin board.
Step 5: Use a Custom Event App
A custom event app is a great addition to any gathering, especially a networking event. It allows you to engage with your attendees and distribute important information.
With an event app, you could…
- Interact with attendees via private messaging.
- Have your guests vote in a poll.
- Display your event’s schedule.
- Create an information page on each guest.
- Send announcements to your guests.
- Give guests a way to communicate after the event.
The whole purpose of hosting a networking event is to connect people together. Anything you can do to facilitate more connections will make your event successful.
Step 6: Prepare Your Guests
One of the best ways to deliver value for your attendees is to share the guest list before they arrive. This gives them time to learn a little about who they’ll network with. They might want to prepare some questions or bring some documents to share.
You can also help your guests by offering some advice on how to break the ice with one another. Sometimes it can be challenging to approach strangers, even when everyone is there for that specific purpose. Email them some tips on meeting new people just before the event.
Step 7: Recruit Anchors to Engage People
There are always a few attendees standing around the edge of a room by themselves. Some people just don’t know how to meet other people.
An anchor is someone you hire (or they volunteer) to deliberately target and engage with attendees who don’t seem comfortable. Wherever possible, the anchors should connect your guests with one another so they have meaningful experiences (and freeing up the anchor to engage with more people).
Step 8: Meet Every Guest
As the host, it’s your responsibility to meet your guests. This might not be practical if you invite a few hundred people (but networking events of that size usually aren’t effective), but try to meet as many as you can.
When you talk to your guests, keep the conversation about them. Ask what they do, why they came, and what they hope to accomplish this year and beyond. Look for opportunities to introduce each guest to anyone else at the networking event.
Step 9: Entice Everyone to Stay Until the End
The value of an effective networking event is the people who attend. If your guests start leaving early, everyone else will have a poorer experience. So it’s important to take steps to keep your event going strong until the scheduled end time.
Here are some ways you can entice people to stay until the end:
- Give out a door prize at the end of the event.
- Host a presentation or talk at the end.
- Hand out gift bags just before everyone leaves.
- Play games or lead mini-events right up until the end.
Step 10: Don’t Be Too Distracting
People attend networking events to meet other people, potential clients and partners, mentors, and other colleagues. They don’t want lengthy presentations, product demonstrations, or speeches. You’ll need to give some instructions, but try to stay out of their way so they can get to business networking.
Step 11: Follow up with Your Guests
Send out a quick email after the event to follow up with everyone who attended. Ask for their feedback: What they liked, what they didn’t like, and what you could do better next time to create a better experience.
Use your follow up email to encourage your guests to continue their interactions online via a specialty Facebook or LinkedIn group. Direct them to a popular group for their niche. If you’re involved in their community, consider creating your own online group to foster the community and promote your future events.
As the host of a networking event, your role is to create an environment where people can meet, learn, and grow. Follow these steps to create a successful event and your guests will clamor to come back next time!