If you’re looking to grow your professional network but can’t seem to find the right professional group, why not organize networking events of your own? While it may sound like a lot to plan, it can actually be a hugely worthwhile endeavor once you start to make connections with other eager people in your industry.
The problem is, many networking events can quickly turn from a productive meeting into a party. So how do you keep things on track? Take a look at the tips below on how to throw the perfect networking bash to gain valuable contacts, make a name for yourself, and advance your career.
Communicate the Purpose
The most important thing you can do to pull off a successful event is to pick a specific purpose for gathering people together. Instead of a general “mingling of minds,” find a unique reason to organize the meeting. Do you want to swap ideas on how to be a small business owner in Boston? What about pairing freelance workers with digital marketing agencies that need some extra help on the side? Whatever your niche reason for the event may be, make sure you start the planning process with this theme in mind.
Once you’ve established the purpose, think about how you want the gathering to shape up. Should it be small or large? Is there any age or industry restrictions? Are you going to charge for entry to the event? Will there be a few guests of honor to kick things off? You don’t need a background in corporate event management to pull off the perfect gathering, but it is crucial to nail out these details before you start promoting the event. Otherwise, you’ll attract the wrong audience and end up with an unproductive soiree—and what’s the point of that?
Pick the Venue Wisely
While the attendees are the most important part of networking events, the venue comes in as a close second. Make sure you decide on an upscale location to encourage an atmosphere of professionalism—dive bars or public parks probably aren’t the best choices. Ensure there is plenty of parking, and perhaps a bar attached to the event area. It’s crucial to reserve a private section of the venue, so it’s easy to spot who is participating in the event and who is not.
To get the best price for a venue, opt for a new restaurant or event space because established places have the client base to charge a lot of money. Make sure the area is large enough to facilitate the number of people you expect to attend but not too large that it will feel empty if a handful of participants cancel. And most importantly, make sure there aren’t too many places for attendees to sit down. The point of the event is to mix and mingle with other professionals, not to hang out on the sidelines.
Promote Your Networking Events to a Target Audience
Next comes drawing in the perfect crowd. Promote your event across all social media platforms, such as creating a Facebook event that links to an RSVP invitation on EventBrite. Tweet about it, post about it, even Snapchat about it—social media should be a professional tool, not just a fun way to pass the time. Just make sure everything you do to promote the meet up is centered around what it can offer the attendee. Even though you’re the host, this event is not about you!
A few days before the actual event, do a promotional blast. Most professionals are busy people, and they don’t want to say yes to an event they’re not sure they can attend. It’s also not a bad idea to put up physical flyers in locations where you target audience lives, works, or hangs out!
When the event finally arrives, make sure everyone is comfortable. Get them a name tag and a drink, and then introduce them to people you already know. For most people, networking can be nerve-wracking. If you ensure that no guest is left unattended, it’ll be much more productive than hoping people will gravitate toward each other on their own. There’s nothing worse than an awkward networking event—the feeling in the room is almost palpable. Play the part of the gracious host to start off the night, and then dive into conversation with everyone who’s attending. Once you get the ball rolling, the event will just snowball into an evening of fantastic connections and swapped business cards.
Make Sure to Follow Up
The day after your event, make sure to follow up with everyone who attended. Send a personalized email thanking them for coming and following up on any conversations you had with them at the event. If you make a particularly strong connection with a few attendees, ask if they’d like to host a similar event with you in the future. The point of these gatherings is to grow your professional network with like-minded individuals who have the same goals as you. They’d probably love to meet up with you again as well!
If you find most networking events are unproductive, it may be time to host your own. Whether you do it as an individual or as a company, these gatherings can create a sense of community and friendship that’s hard to find anywhere else.