Q: I am the co-founder of a local women's networking group. The organization has grown to more than 400 women, with 120 in attendance at some meetings. We are looking for ways to network with such a large group. Having each person do a personal introduction takes too long for the entire group. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.
A: Networking with such a large group is both good and bad. It's good because there are many people that your members can meet. However, it can also be a problem because it's very easy to get lost in the crowd with so many people involved.
There are several things you can do to make a large group's networking efforts more effective. If you have a speaker and there are tables around the room, you can use the tables as the focal point for networking exercises. Ask everyone to sit down and do a 60-second introduction at their table. Depending on whether a dinner is involved, you would even be able to have everyone switch tables at least once, move to another table and repeat the process. I've been at several large networking events (with as many as 500 people) where this process worked incredibly well because it was very well-orchestrated.
It's important with this technique to ask people to sit at tables where they don't already know the majority of other people. That helps to ensure that people are really networking rather than simply sitting with their friends.
It's also good to add something to the mix from time to time. For example, you might instruct everyone to include in their introduction some other businesses that they are currently looking for, or trends that are occurring in their industry or any other point of interest that breaks up the routine a little bit.
If you don't have tables for people to use as a focal point for smaller networking opportunities, there are a number of things you can do for larger group-networking situations. One of my favorites is "business card bingo." This is how it works:
First, as you enter the room, you drop your business card in the "bingo box," as does everyone else. You are then given a "bingo card," and you write your name in the center square.
Next, you circulate with everyone throughout the room. To complete the card, you need to meet 24 other people, collect their business cards and have them write their names in the open squares.
Later, someone calls off the names on the business cards that everyone dropped in the bingo box when they arrived. Regular bingo rules apply thereafter. The winner is the first person with five names in a row, either across, down or diagonally. This person receives one of the many door prizes that are often given at these events. Of course, everybody really wins, because everyone makes new contacts through the process.
The bottom line here is that as the networking group leader, it's important for you to provide exercises and activities that get people to actually network. I have found that people, like water, tend to seek the path of least resistance. Without some structured activities at networking events, they will often do what is easiest, not what's best. Therefore, it's very important that you offer exercises and activities that remind them that it's not called "netSIT" or "netEAT; it's called "netWORK," and in order to have a successful networking event, your members need to "work" the network.