7 Steps for Planning a Kick-Ass Networking Event
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Lamenting the end of SXSW Interactive? Don’t. Instead, consider throwing your own conference.
I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. As a young entrepreneur, you might run into the challenge of being taken seriously by more seasoned business people. We’ve talked before about what you can do to build up your credibility, and holding a business event is an increasingly viable way.
When you plan and sponsor a networking event, you’re suddenly transformed into a business leader in the community. You’re responsible for bringing entrepreneurs together to talk shop, and only a leader does that. Add to that pulling off a really great event, and you’ll be seen as a leader and an authority in your community, regardless of your age.
Plus, you can’t beat the exposure. People often talk about great events they’ve attended, and that means the benefits extend well beyond the event itself.
Here’s how to pull off a successful event:
1. Make it easy. Use a pre-made registration app, such as Eventbrite to allow attendees to register. Having people register in advance helps you estimate the attendance ahead of time, and it gets a commitment from attendees, while providing an automated reminder via email.
2. Choose a venue wisely. Many nicer hotels will allow you to hold a networking event in their lobby or patio area, and often you can get the space for free if the hotel bar is connected to the space. They know they’ll make money on drinks, so they’ll comp the space. Make sure the venue is up-scale, easy to find, and has plenty of parking. Minimize any possible frustrations that might come from getting to the event, or you’ll sour people on your event before they even step inside.
3. Make on-site check-in super smooth. It’s a great idea to have attendees check in, even if you aren’t charging for an event. You want to be able to track how many people attended, and if you ask for their email address, you can follow up and announce future events. But don’t draw out the registration process. If someone doesn’t want to give you their email, let it slide. Have plenty of pens and name tags available, and make sure the person checking attendees in is friendly and professional.
4. Meet everyone. Make sure you introduce yourself to ever person who attends. Welcome them, and focus on talking about what they do, not what you do. Be a great listener, and take a genuine interest in them and their business. They’ll remember you for it.
5. Be a connector. As you meet and greet everyone, constantly look for opportunities to connect people who would benefit from meeting each other. If you meet an inventor, introduce him to the patent attorney you just met. Tell the freelance writer she just has to meet the magazine publisher who just arrived. Keep track of these connections, and follow up next time you see them. Find out if they benefited from the introduction.
6. Recruit anchors. There are always a few people at any event who are off in a corner, not talking to anyone. Get volunteers to be anchors for your event. Their job is to make sure everyone is talking with someone. They should be great connectors as well and have the ability to listen and take an interest in others.
7. Follow up, and do it again. Follow up with your attendees. Ask how they liked the event, and get ideas from them about how it could be better. Then plan the next one. If you follow this formula, you’ll see your events grow and grow, and, before you know it, you’ll be the talk of the town.
What’s the key to a great networking event? Let us know in the comments section below.