Have you ever been to one of those deadpan networking events that people are supposed to connect over tasteless food and (at least hopefully) a glass of wine? While networking seems to be the thing to do nowadays for job development or sales connections, those events bore me to tears and are super awkward for people (like me) who get anxious at the thought of shaking hands and talking about themselves.
Thankfully, people who plan these events are working hard to make them not-so mind-numbing. The efforts to improve networking events probably stems from the gigantic amount of competition for being the one networking event to attend, rather than the one to skip in the many event opportunities that are popping up. If you are one of those people looking to take your networking event to the next level then keep on reading for my tips for throwing a speed networking event that kicks those other events to the curb.
(More interested in tips on how to wow everyone in the room when you attend a speed networking event? Check back tomorrow for my post on that!)
7 Tips for Throwing a Speed Networking Event that Isn’t Boring
A great networking event needs to have a good group of attendees that have a purpose for getting together, a venue that is conducive to discussions, decent refreshments and maybe some additional entertainment or incentive for guests to enjoy. I’ve thrown several networking events in my role with local networking group Portland Bloggers. Some of the events have been out of this world awesome… others, well, lets just call them learning experiences. Today’s post was inspired by our last Portland Bloggers’ meet-up hosted by Passionfruit, because it was on of those events that I just can’t help but smile for weeks after the event is over.
Speed Networking Tip 1: Give your event purpose
General networking events really do no one in attendance very much good. Make sure your event has a unique reason for your guests to attend. This part is usually fairly easy for most business networking events. Our purpose was to bring Portland-area bloggers together to talk about the ins and outs of blogging. Other networking events could be for certain industries or event working mothers or fathers groups.
To help give our event more of a purpose we provided a structure to this networking event that fit a speed networking theme. Instead of a one-on-one speed networking event (which we did and loved last year) we tried a group-style speed networking event instead. People would be with a group of people for 15 minutes going around the table answering questions. Guests could ask their own questions or use one of the many provided questions at the table.
This type of event helped give the whole event a purpose that surrounded around blogging, while still leaving it open for guests to really shine in talking about their individual interests. The part I liked the most is it was really helpful for people (like me) who get nervous in meet and greet situations. It is much easier to answer a question get to know others when there are a set of rules and questions to guide the conversation!
Speed Networking Tip 2: Make your in-person networking event work as a social networking event
Networking today isn’t just about networking in person. A large part of networking goes on before and after the event with the use of an invitation page where guests can interact before the event, great signage at the event that includes hashtags and ways to connect and finally a hashtag that guests can use to connect with other attendees after the event. Doing this not only helps your guests connect and find more substantial connections from your event, but it increases the buzz around your event. The better buzz surrounding your event the more opportunity to connect with potential attendees to help make your NEXT event a success.
We use Eventbrite to sell tickets to our events which allows people to connect using Facebook. We tend to also set up a Facebook event page so guests can connect and talk prior to our events. Finally, all of our events include a #PortlandBloggers hashtag so guests can connect after any of our events.
Speed Networking Tip 3: Pick an awesome venue that is conducive to conversations
I can’t tell you how many networking events I’ve been to at restaurants or bars where the music was too loud to hear what anyone was saying and the space was too crowded to move about freely. I’d spend the entire time yelling across a bar top to one or two people instead of getting around and connecting with multiple people.
We used the office space of Passionfruit which was the perfect venue for an event such as this. We were able to create unique conversation areas within the venue to make it easier for people to gravitate towards conversation areas. Because we were doing the group speed networking we wanted each person to have a seat and possibly a place to put down their drinks and food plates. Tables, chairs, and comfy living room furniture met our needs without looking too “office” like.
Speed Networking Tip 4: Make sure there are great refreshments
Don’t bore guests or waste your money on trays of food and bottles of cheap wine that are boring and won’t be consumed. Don’t worry about spending a bundle on a ton of food either… people go to networking events to NETWORK and not to enjoy a meal (unless it is a networking dinner, but then you are in a different event all together). Make sure there are a few quality options for guests to enjoy and make sure that everything is easy to eat without the need to sit down and pull out a knife and fork. Adult libations are nice and do help to keep the conversations flowing, but they aren’t absolutely necessary or appropriate for ALL networking events.
Local bagel shop Bowery Bagels supplied the best little bagel bites (already pre-schmeared!) for our brunch networking event. They were easy to eat and didn’t require guests to get out of networking mode to put together a snack. We added some fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and a few tasty bagel topping options to round out the food tables. While I’m a big fan of having adult libations at networking events, we decided due to the time and theme of our event to stick with coffee and juices. Amazing local coffee shop Black Rock Coffee supplied a great tasting brew for guests to enjoy along with both dairy and non-dairy creamer options.
Speed Networking Tip #5: Include Entertainment or Extra Incentives
The goal for a networking event, especially a speed networking event, is to well… network. But, occasionally in all of the conversations guests may need a break from the constant conversations or a reason to stay to the end after they’ve met everyone they feel that they want to meet. Adding in a little extra entertainment or incentive is always a good idea. Music is great to play throughout the event, but make sure it isn’t too loud or distracting as it will take away from the purpose of your event. Other great entertainment options include a photo booth, ping pong table, or group activity that can get your guests interacting together rather than just chatting over a dish of food. Giveaways or goodie bags are great incentives to keep guests til the end of the action and thank them for their time. You want them to come back to your next event!
Speed Networking Tip #6: Have clear signage at the event
Make sure all areas of your event are labeled even down to your guests. Have name tags for guests to wear throughout the event. Have the wifi password and hashtag posted up EVERYWHERE. Make sure you have clear signage for bathrooms or any other necessary instructions for guests.
Speed Networking Tip #7: Hire a photographer
If this is your one and only networking event then you may not care if you have images from the event. However, if you are planning on throwing regular networking events then having images of your events to use in promotion of future events or even just as an engagement opportunity with previous guests after an event is over, then you want to have great images. Likely, you’ll be too busy networking and making sure the event is running smoothly to get images yourself. Hire a photographer to make sure you have images of your event!
Portland-local photographer Aubrie LeGault shot our last two speed networking events and each time she made a whole bunch of people talking look like rock stars.
Have you been to any networking events or thrown a networking event or two yourself? What tips would you have for people wanting to make a kick-A networking event happen in their area? Comment below!
Thank you to the sponsors of the Portland Bloggers Speed Networking Event:
A big, big thank you goes out to all the awesome sponsors that helped make the recent Portland Bloggers’ networking event possible. I appreciate the support of local Portland bloggers and hope that you do too! Please check out the websites of these awesome supporters of Portland blogs and connect with them online:
Host: Passionfruit | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Photographer: Aubrie LeGault Photography | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Bagels: Bowery Bagels | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
Coffee: Black Rock Coffee Bar | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter