To increase brand awareness, engage your target audience, expand your potential client base, or be seen as a thought leader in your industry – these are some common benefits for companies who hold networking events, and probably why you’re thinking of holding one too.
But simply putting people in the same room, pinning a name tag on them, and leaving them to their own devices isn’t enough.
Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Bond University, puts forth studies that have shown that structured and organised networking events are more effective in helping attendees create meaningful connections. Research has even highlighted that factors such as the place and space where the event is being held and the role of the hosts also determine a networking event’s success.
In other words, the most successful networking event organisers are those who facilitate interactions, keep their attendees engaged, and spark meaningful conversations.
So whether you’re a start-up organising your first industry mixer or a small business looking to level up your next company event, here are seven tips to help you create a great experience for your attendees – and motivate them to sign up for your next event.
1. Be clear about your event purpose
Are you educating attendees on how to solve a common problem in their market? Hoping to match potential business partners or investors with budding entrepreneurs? Bringing together like-minded professionals from a niche sector? Celebrating your company’s anniversary or moving to a new office with your clients and partners?
By hammering out the “why”, you’ll be able to attract the right “who” to attend.
2. Have your attendees needs in mind
This requires you to understand your attendees a little better. Are there a significant number of vegans or vegetarians? Are any of them wheelchair-bound or visually-impaired? Do they prefer morning, afternoon, or evening events?
Be mindful that most people have busy schedules; if you’re holding your event on a weekday evening after work, make it short and sweet, and preferably no more than an hour. Not many people would want to spend three to four hours after a long day at work standing around waiting for your program to be over.
3. Choose the right space
Make sure the venue is small enough that it forces people to be close to each other – according to Sander’s research, physical proximity to others is an important facilitator for building new relationships.
And in line with keeping your attendees needs in mind, a venue that is convenient and accessible (with ample parking will be a plus) will go a long way to encouraging more people to attend.
Bonus points if the venue matches your theme. For instance, if your event centres around sustainability, hold it in a hotel or restaurant that champions sustainability. If you’re inviting people from the tech industry, hold it at an Apple store.
You can use online directories such as Peerspace, Unique Venues, EventUp, and Splacer to find unique event venues.
4. Be a connector
The best hosts are the ones that facilitate mingling. Studies have shown that individuals who receive organised introductions made far more meaningful connections than those who received no introduction.
A good way to start is at the registration table. Meet everyone and get to know enough about them so that you’ll be able to make the right introductions. Ask everyone to wear nametags that indicate their profession or industry for easier reference.
Walking newcomers around the room and introducing them to people serves two purposes: it helps lone attendees feel less awkward about starting a conversation themselves with zero knowledge about who they’re approaching (how terrifying!), and it allows you to break up any cliques (which are counterproductive to a networking event).
And after making your introductions, warm up the conversation and move on. Like at a dinner party, a good host provides the social lubricant but doesn’t linger.
5. Have a networking strategy
Leaving attendees to their own devices isn’t the best strategy for event success. Try exploring creative networking activities such as icebreakers to help loosen everyone up and get the conversation started.
- Set up a Word Cloud with the question: "How are you feeling this morning?"
- Let your audience submit and vote on responses.
- Show the live Word Cloud on the projector.
Another concept that is fast gaining popularity is speed networking. Similar to speed dating, it allows even the most reserved attendees to speak to as many people as possible within a short period of time.
6. Keep your attendees engaged
One popular type of networking event is speaking engagements, such as panel discussions, fireside chats, or educational sharing sessions. The most challenging aspect of these is ensuring that your audience stays attentive and interested throughout (and don’t start petering off mid-event).
One way to drive audience interaction at events is to conduct live polls, quizzes, or crowdsource opinions and ideas. Pigeonhole Live helps you do all these and more, including organise Q&A sessions that are more inclusive than the traditional passing-the-mic-around method.
To facilitate the Q&A session:
- Set up a Q&A session with tags for each speaker.
- Instruct your audience to ask and vote on questions to the speaker on Pigeonhole Live. They can direct questions at specific speakers by using the allotted tags.
7. Follow up after
Networking doesn’t stop when your event ends! Follow up with your attendees and add value beyond just “thank you for attending” – give a highlights summary of what was shared by the speakers, invite them to join your LinkedIn group and mailing list, or ask for valuable feedback so you can improve on your next event.
One option is to use Pigeonhole Live Survey to get immediate feedback during or after your event, when the experience is still fresh in their minds. And here are 12 other ways to maximise your survey responses so you’ll get the most out of your attendees.
Great event organisers are effective network builders. With the right strategy and activities to help your attendees connect meaningfully with the right people, your next networking event is sure to be a resounding success.