8 Tips for Organizing a Small Networking Event
Networking is the cornerstone of business. They are constantly promoted as an opportunity to advance careers and make professional connections that lead to years of profitable business. As a result, there is an entire industry dedicated to networking.
It should be no surprise because an estimated 85% of jobs are filled due to personal and professional connections. However, the real gold dust is in hosting your own event. Again, putting yourself in control lets you dictate the who, what, when, where, and why.
So, how can you organize a small networking event?
Pick a Purpose for the Event
Networking events are primarily about meeting people. Bringing people together means getting the right people together. You need people from your community, your industry, and your specialization.
If attendees understand from day one what they can expect from an event, you will attract the right people and turn the wrong people away. You want people to put the time and effort into making your event a success, which means drawing high-value connections.
Set the Format
Some networking events are ultra-formal affairs where everyone attends in a well-tailored suit. Other networking events are smart casual, where everyone will mingle and chat without the constraints of a formal business meeting.
There are so many ways to format your event. For example, some networking events opt for a speed dating event, where people have just a few minutes to meet and chat before moving on.
Others focus on learning new skills, whereas others are simply about sipping a bottle of good wine and chatting.
Decide which format will work for you. Ultimately, the goal is to keep people mixing.
Consider Your Budget
Smaller networking events don’t require millions of dollars more than larger, more well-known events. Your budget will be primarily determined by what you have to spare and whether you intend to make a profit from your event.
Your budget will determine the venue, catering, goody bags, and more. People remember the little things, so make sure you allocate your budget accordingly.
Invest in Intelligent Catering
Did you know that 70% of job roles are not posted publicly on job sites?
Most of these positions are filled over snacks and small meals at networking events. Catering wisely is designed to promote those meaningful connections.
Everyone loves snacks, but do you want to go further? Too much alcohol can hamper communication. A mouthful of food can do the same. The expectations of your demographic will also decide your catering choices.
Venues with on-site catering are the easy answer. However, organizing catering with an outsider can create additional logistical challenges. So think carefully about how much you want to manage from your end.
Add Some Custom Touches
It’s the little things that stand out at any gathering. So think about ways to differentiate your small networking event from everyone else’s.
Custom additions to your event can help to nail those memorable first impressions. Create your own custom goody bags with items like t-shirts, custom toothpicks flags, or even small gift cards as a way to say thank you.
You can also pay attention to the decorations. For example, having some banners made for your event can create an impact by demonstrating exclusivity and turning your event into something of a big deal.
Understand the Space You Have
Space is not only about the square footage you have to work with. Think about the flow of attendees. Large, open spaces are critical to allowing people to mix freely without negotiating a complex maze of chairs and tables.
Chart out the movements of your attendees when planning out your room. It’s also wise to have a vantage point where you can take a helicopter view of the event below.
Try not to create too much clutter. Likewise, you don’t want too much space, or your small networking event can appear empty. Most of your decisions regarding space will depend on the format and the events you intend on holding.
Communication is the core of a networking event, but not everyone is fantastic at walking up to a stranger and introducing themselves. Most networkers attend small networking events because they’re not great at networking.
Learn the value of facilitating conversations. For example, enlisting a few team members to hunt down the shrinking violets in the corner is an excellent way of getting people to let their guards down.
Miniature events within your event are another great way to force people together. Don’t assume communication is going to happen naturally.
Develop a Follow-Up Scheme
The value of any small networking event is what happens next. Even if everyone gives you rave reviews about your event, it doesn’t mean anything if it leads to nothing afterward. The whole purpose of a networking event is to facilitate future business connections.
Think about how you will record people’s contact details and connect with them afterward. Even reaching out to attendees to thank them via your mailing list is an excellent entry point for building on the relationships formed at your event.
Naturally, your attendees will need to take charge of their follow-ups themselves, but as the organizer, you will also come into contact with high-value contacts you’ll want to stay in touch with.
It’s wise to open up a Facebook or LinkedIn group in the run-up to your event so you can solicit feedback for future events. Don’t expect everything to be perfect if this is your first event. Always be working toward improvement.
If executed correctly, your social media event group could become self-sustaining as attendees launch their own conversations.
Smaller networking events have so many moving parts that they have similar challenges to large-scale events. Make sure you have a reliable team handling various aspects of your event.
Don’t be afraid to bring in some experienced help to consult with on a temporary basis. As always, don’t sweat the small stuff. Relax and listen to your target audience. It’s also worth attending some small networking events yourself to get inspired for your own event.
What are your top tips for holding a successful small networking event?