How to run a business networking event

Let’s be clear.  Hiring a room, making a sign saying ‘Networking event’, and sticking it above the door, does not constitute providing a networking event.

Networking events should have certain characteristics to enable participants to get the most from their attendance—to say nothing, in most cases, of their admission charge.

As explained elsewhere, I believe participants should not suppose that attending a networking event is all they need to do to network productively.  But these events do form the foundation of a successful networking enterprise and participants should be entitled to expect them to be run properly.

The bare minimum

Given that the purpose of attending a networking event should be to find those people with whom it is likely to be worth developing a business relationship, the event should provide all the following if that is to happen:

1        An identified host who runs the event—who is enthusiastic, energetic and available between events

2        A timetable:  the organisers should be more imaginative than simply hiring the room and letting people get on with it

3       Enough space to mingle easily, to move from person to person (an IoD event in Oxford recently failed on this first hurdle)

4       At least water, and preferably other drinks

5       A name badge for each participant, giving their name and the business they are representing on that occasion in large enough writing for it to be readable at more than six inches

6       The proactive introduction by the host of members to each other, based on the host’s knowledge of what the two people do.  This particularly applies to how new members are integrated into the group.  It really means at least two hosts:  one on the door, and one is on the floor, working the room, introducing people

Hiring a room, making a sign saying ‘Networking event’, and sticking it above the door, does not constitute providing a networking event.

This may be too much to ask for in random, one off events run by, say, a law firm.  But it should be de rigueur for all membership networking organisations where the participants are paying a membership fee as well as a fee to get into a particular event.  If these organisations do not know the basic information about their members, they should hang their heads in shame

7       This introduction service should be advertised at the time of booking and participants should be encouraged to ask (preferably beforehand) for introductions at the event

8       Prior to the event, each person booking should have access to the names of people who have already booked.  Arguments that this list will be inaccurate because people book after the list has been circulated are specious:  a list produced after booking has closed will be inaccurate too since, invariably, some people who book don’t turn up.  So far, I have found only one networking organisation, NRG Networks, which provides this facility and it doesn’t extend it to non-members who book

9       A day or so before the event, the organisers should send an email reminder to each person who has booked.  The reminder should include some tips about how to get the most form the event

10     At the event, a printed list should be given to each attender, naming all those who have booked, plus anyone else who has been invited, plus those who are running the event.  This list should include:  name, business represented, market sector(s) of the business (eg, construction), activities of the business (eg, recruitment), website url, personal business telephone number and personal business email of the attender.

No organisation offers the last of these (indeed, no organisation offers all but the last either).  The excuse offered for not giving email addresses is that someone might spam everyone else who attended.  This is, of course, annoying, but the disadvantage of not providing email addresses is greater in my view than is the irritation of a couple of spam emails.  On booking, it may be necessary to warn prospective attenders that spamming the list will result in an immediate lifetime ban from that organisation’s networking events (one strike and you’re out)

11     After the event, those who attended should be notified by the organisers of those who didn’t attend for any reason

12      For membership networking organisations, the management should hold regular (eg, annual) one to one conversations with each member to ensure that they (the management) are up to date with what the members are doing in their business and what each member needs from the events they run.

None of these criteria is difficult or costly to provide.  All of them are reasonable if the networking event is to best meet the needs of the attenders (who are, almost always, paying to be there).

Yet few are the networking organisations that do all of this, or even most of it.

Whilst it is possible for the experienced networker to make something of the pig’s ear that is often presented to them, it shouldn’t be necessary.  Worse, these poor events discourage the nervous or inexperienced from repeating a bad experience;  this therefore diminishes the pool of interesting people available to those people who do turn up to meet.

At worst, a networking organisation will fail because of the failure of the events they run to meet these basic criteria.

by Jeremy Marchant . © 2019 Jeremy Marchant Limited . subbed 7 may 2019 . image: Free images

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