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Tips for business networking

Many organizations add networking events to their programs to encourage members to meet one another and build relationships. These networking meetings can be as small as 10-30 people or as large as 300-500 people.

Unlike small networking meetings where each person can easily visit with all attendees, large networking events present a special challenge for event organizers: How can we help attendees meet appropriate contacts when the room is filled with hundreds of people?

It’s impossible for anyone to meet every appropriate contact at a large networking meeting, so it’s important for the meeting organizer to create opportunities for everyone to meet appropriate contacts.

The challenge is not just the size of the event, it’s also the diversity of interests among attendees. There are a number of reasons why people attend networking events. These include:

As networking events have grown larger, these groups have a hard time finding valuable contacts at large networking events.


Improving Connections at the Event

To help attendees overcome this problem, an event organizer needs to make it easy to connect with compatible people. Two of these techniques are to:

  • Identify each person’s interests on their nametag
  • Provide locations throughout the meeting room for each interest

Some event planners identify an attendee’s interests on their nametag. This can be done by using a different colored dot for each interest. As an attendee moves around the room, it’s easy to spot the colored dots representing their interests, which makes it easy to identify who to approach.

However, some people do not want to be labeled as a job seeker or salesperson because it keeps other people from wanting to talk to them. Also, people who are especially desired, such as job recruiters and investors, attract so many people that they cannot easily network.

This makes the use of tall signs throughout the room much better because people can move through each section of the room without necessarily indicating a strong interest in that particular topic.

When it’s not possible to use tall signs, consider using colored helium filled balloons, with each color indicating a different interest. The difficulty here, of course, is letting each attendee know which color represents which topic of interest.

Electronic Networking Before and After the Event

In addition to helping people connect during the event, it’s also helpful to provide ways for attendees to connect electronically prior to an event to plan connections. This can be done by using a Web based RSVP system such as SureToMeet.com that allows people to make their profile available to others interested in attending the event.

One problem with trying to connect with specific people during a networking event is not knowing whether they are actually there. One technique that networking event organizers can use to help attendees is to suggest that each person post their business card on a large bulletin board. Then, as each person arrives, it’s easy to scan the bulletin board and see who has already arrived.

If you’re unsure of the interests of the people expected to attend, you can ask attendees which interests should be available on signs or other indicators at the event. This can be done by using an RSVP system, such as SureToMeet.com, that allows people to enter a note or comment along with their RSVP.

Even the best networker cannot meet every attendee who was appropriate for them to meet. To help attendees obtain additional value from the event, an RSVP system should be used that allows attendees to connect electronically with each other after the event. For example, SureToMeet.com allows attendees to provide their profile to each person at an event so they can contact people attending the event. This makes it easy to follow up on connections made during the event.

Increasing the Value of a Large Networking Event

Networking has become an important part of building a career or a business, which means that networking events will become larger and more valuable to attendees.
As the size of your networking events grows, so does the need to create opportunities for making connections quickly and easily before, during, and after each event.

These techniques can help attendees make a large networking event much more valuable — and increase the loyalty that attendees have for the event.


Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons., and was co-founder of SureToMeet.com.

 

Meeting people at networking events is a great way to grow your professional network of connections — plus increase the frequency of visiting with people you already know.
People who share a common interest, problem, or profession benefit from spending face-to-face time with like-minded people.
You know networking is great — however, there are times when you can’t find a well-matched networking group near you that meets your needs.
Solve this networking dilemma — when there’s no networking group near you, start one.

Benefits of starting a networking group

Starting and running a networking group is a lot of work, so you need to think about how you will not only spend the time necessary, but benefit from your time investment.
A few years ago a few friends and I started a networking group because we wanted to network with other entrepreneurs like us, and there was no group in our area. Some people start a networking group to turn it into a business, while others start a networking group that’s part of their existing business. And yes, some want the social benefits.

The three Ps of a networking group

There are the essential ingredients to a successful networking group:

  • Purpose — How will attendees benefit from attending meetings and making new contacts? Is there a “passion” that will encourage participation?
  • People — What common interest or need will hold your community together?
  • Place — Where will your networking group meet that attendees will find comfortable and convenient?
  • Promotion — How will you reach out to new people in the area who share an interest in the networking group’s purpose for meeting?

Mission and purpose

Here are several leadership questions that will help you create a clear picture of what your networking group will accomplish:

  • What interest will your attendees and members have in common?
  • How will people benefit by attending your networking events?
  • How will people meet new contacts that will lead to beneficial relationships?

There are a wide variety of networking groups, such as:

  • Business and social networking group — People who want to socialize and form relationships with others in their specific profession or industry.
  • Networking leads and referral group Salespeople and business development people who work together to help their customers.
  • Job leads group — People who share job opportunities with others who are looking for a job.

In addition to helping the people who attend your networking meetings, think about how you will benefit, too. It takes a lot of time and work to start and run a networking group, and you need to think about how you will benefit from taking on this leadership role. If you don’t receive a reasonable return on your invested time and money – chances are you will burn out before the group can reach critical mass.
Networking needs people
Every networking group needs several types of people:

  • Founders — People who lead, plan, and recruit others to attend.
  • Supporters — People who help the networking group grow and thrive by inviting their contacts to meetings, making introduction, and, in some cases, sponsor networking meetings and special events.
  • Attendees — People who attend the meetings, participate, and engage with other who are looking to network and create mutually beneficial relationships.

Networking groups need programs

Many networking groups get started with the idea that people will just naturally attend and mingle and meet people. This can work well in the early days when the founders and supporters invite people they know and who have a core shared interest in socializing.
However, as the group grows, it helps to have a “program” that attracts new people to attend. Each meeting’s program also shapes and develops the common interest of the people attending each meeting — new people know that those who share an interest in the programs topic will attend.
The typical program at most networking groups, association chapters, and other interest groups is a guest speaker from outside the group. However, there are several other types of program formats, such as:

  • Featured member presentation
  • Every attendee makes a mini-presentation
  • Every attendee participates in a “speed networking” activity where everyone meets everyone else one-to-one

Places to network

Finding a location for a new networking group to meet is usually easy, but it becomes more difficult as the group attracts more attendees.
New networking groups normally start by meeting at free locations, such as:

  • Conference room at a member’s office
  • Coffee shop
  • Restaurant
  • Lobby of a large hotel

An example of location used by a lot of small and casual networking groups is their nearest Panera Bread location. Their locations have plenty of room, good coffee and snacks, and free WiFi!
Free locations like these allow a networking group to avoid charging for attendance. Each person just pays for whatever they eat or drink.
However, as the number of people who attend increases, it will become necessary to contract with venues that handle larger meetings and events. This means that the organizers need to pay for the room, and for the food and drinks provided to attendees. And, this means that attendees need to pay to attend the networking events. Collecting fees can be handled by either having people register online before the event or pay at the door.

Promoting a networking group’s meetings

Networking groups thrive when there is a mix of regular attendees who frequently attend plus new, interested people at each event — and this takes promotion.
Some networking groups try to promote their meetings by just posting a notice on their Web event calendar and sending a personal e-mail to the people in their contact list. This doesn’t work well because it usually doesn’t reach a significant number of people who might attend, and it doesn’t remind people frequently enough to break through the clutter of media overload.
The very best way to promote a networking event to your core participants is to send several e-mails to everyone who has attended in the past. The easiest way to do this is to use an online meeting promotion and RSVP service, such as SureToMeet.
Networking groups need to attract new people to attend, participate, and become loyal members. This is effectively achieved by promoting the group’s meetings and events in several ways:

  • Referrals — Make it easy for previous attendees to invite their friends and associates.
  • Social media — Post announcements on social media sites where like-minded followers and friends can click through to the event Web page and RSVP.
  • Traditional and online media — Post announcements on Web calendar sites, and send announcements to local newspapers with calendar sections.
  • Sign-up form — Make it easy for people to subscribe to your meeting notices with an online registration form.

Planning the new networking group

Each of the start-up elements of starting and growing a networking group has a lot of details, so to make your networking debut easier for you, we’ve created an interactive planning tool for starting and running a networking group. Just start at the top level of the interactive mind map, and drill down to the specific action items and tasks that will help you create your networking group’s meetings and events.

Read more »

One of the problems that event organizers constantly face is finding good, inexpensive meeting locations.

We started hosting a free monthly networking event here in Los Angeles and faced this problem ourselves.

One of the people helping start our networking group suggested that we meet in the lobby/bar of a large hotel because it has plenty of room for a group to network, it’s easy for everyone to find the building, and is usually not very busy. It turns out that it’s not easy to find a large hotel lobby/bar that can easily hold 100-150 people, but after visiting several hotels we found a good venue for our networking events.

We originally wanted a lobby/bar to avoid the costs of a meeting room while we started the networking group – especially since it’s free to attend our networking events! It turns out that there are other benefits, too. It’s easy for everyone to find our networking group when they arrive, the chairs and couches are comfortable for groups to sit and chat, and we attract people who are in the hotel for other meetings and events.

So, when you need a place for a group to meet, consider a nearby hotel lobby.

The Web-based webinar has become a popular way to make a presentation to people no matter where they are. However, online webinars have gotten a bad reputation – audience members do other tasks during webinars, and some people say they have left the room while a webinar is in progress.

Since SureToMeet provides event registration services for organizations holding both in-person meetings and online webinars, we have an interest in organizations having successful webinars!

Improving the webinar experience

It has become so easy and inexpensive to hold a webinar that it’s easy to neglect the event planning and content preparation that’s essential for a quality webinar experience. So, we created a free, interactive webinar planning tool as a source of “webinar best practices.” These webinar planning ideas can help all webinar producers improve their webinar results.

Just start at the top level and click down to the specific action items and tasks that will help you produce a successful and beneficial webinar.

Read more »

Organizations and groups face a big challenge today putting on events for their members. While the cost of events is rising, members are becoming more cost conscious.

This means organizations need to not only manage their costs for events, but also ensure that registration fees will cover their costs.

For organizations that have been collecting registration fees at their events, the number of “no shows” can result in costs exceeding revenues.

Event organizers know that the number of people who RSVP to an event can be very different from the number who actually attend the event. This is especially true for events that don’t require a registration fee to be paid online prior to the event.

For the business networking events I help organize we found that a significant number of the “Yes” RSVPs don’t attend. Fortunately, our events are free, which means we don’t have a financial obligation to meet.
However, most organizations have significant costs to host their events. So, many organizations are moving to online event registration to:

  • Motivate members to pre-pay by discounting online registration prices
  • Ensure a minimum number of attendees by the people who paid for event registration online
  • Reduce the staff needed at the event’s registration area

Most online event registration systems handle the basic needs:

  • Sell any number of registrations
  • Accept credit cards for payment

While it may appear that a traditional online shopping cart can handle event registrations, additional features are needed for an effective online event registration system.

Here are the most used features SureToMeet provided in our first generation online event registration system. (Note: we’ve transitioned to providing a patented business networking service) :

  • Display event description pages within the organization’s existing Web site.
  • Send e-mail invitations to a mailing list on predetermined schedule.
  • Obtain the name of every attendee and the registration type (e.g., member, guest, student) that was purchased for them.
  • Offer “early bird” price discounts that reward attendees for paying their event registration online.
  • Offer certain types of registrations to specific groups of people (i.e., member discounts only to members, etc.),
  • Limit the number of each type of registration that can be sold online to encourage early purchase.
  • Customize the online registration form to ask questions specific to the event.
  • Accept attendee referrals of new people, which are added to the organization’s mailing list.
  • Create an online community of attendees prior to an event so people know who will attend.
  • Download online registrations for printing nametags prior to the event.
  • Automatically update online content with links to the organization’s upcoming events.
  • Sell organization memberships online.
  • Receive online registration payments without the cost of bank credit card merchant account fees.

When an organization uses these and other features of an online event registration system attendees feel the event is more enjoyable and beneficial — starting with the online registration through the entire event.

This gives attendees a greater sense of quality for both the event and the organization. And, the online event registration system helps manage revenue to ensure that the event will be beneficial to the organization, too.

I was talking with Kathleen Ronald recently, who is an expert on networking techniques, and she shared a networking tip that I’ve never heard before.

Following up with new contacts from a networking event is very important. However, it takes time to enter people in a contact manager and write appropriate e-mails.

Kathleen said that the way to make sure you follow up quickly is to block out time on your calendar for following up at the same time you add the networking event to your calendar.

This sounded very easy to do — until I started doing it. It turned out to be harder than I expected to find a block of time between meetings and other tasks to focus on following up with new contacts, but it’s helped me contact people a few days sooner.

By the way, Kathleen Ronald, “the Queen of Business Networking,” speaks at conferences and regional events, as well as coaches individuals and corporate teams. If you want to be a better networker call Kathleen.