Running a great Networking Event can be a struggle for even the most seasoned organiser. We host and see a large number of networking events at Carrwood Park Business Centre in our leeds meeting rooms, so we have the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. Here we will try to educate you by refering to what we have seen in our centres.
The BNI Model
BNI is one of the world’s largest networking and referral organisations. It is based upon the idea of “what goes around, comes around,” i.e. that by giving business to others, you will get business in return. All members carry several copies of your business card with them and act as additional salespeople to help members, “increase their business through a structured, positive, and professional “word-of-mouth” program that enables them to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals.” [BNI website]
If you are organising a one-off event, the BNI model does not work. This is because this model relies on the development of trust over time, so regular structured events are required for this model to work. For one-off networking events, it is best to keep things simple (see advice below). Read a negative and a positive review of the BNI model on The Marketing Spot.
The Best Times for Networking Meetings
For best response, I always like to see a shorter evening meeting later in the day. This ensures the networking meeting doesn’t affect working hours too much, or eat in to peoples evenings either. I would recommend either 4.30pm till 7pm on a Thursday, or a Wednesday breakfast meeting (for a young crowd, evening meetings are best).
I think a simple format works best. Begin with 45 minutes of open networking followed by a brief 20-minute topical talk, then close with more networking. Give people what they are there for!
Opening Networking Meetings and Making Connections
For good networking, you need a good team there right from the start. Please don’t force everyone to hold their hands up or ask the audience who they know – to me, this seems insincere and very impersonal. It only gives people information they can find in the yellow pages.
It is much better for your team takes time to speak to your guests when they first arrive and say, “I know someone who would be great for you to meet”. You’ve then built the relationship with them and can help them with their contacts. Really do your homework first to make sure the introductions are relevant. Then what’s not to love about your company, if you’re doing all that for free!
Ratio of Guests Per Team Members for Networking Events
Some of the best networking companies recommend seven guests per one of your team members. This is so you have time to build up a relationship with your guests at the event. It also gives each team member a manageable amount of people to find out about before the event, to make your introductions relevant. The more introductions you can think of the better, so you can keep conversation flowing and keep breaking the groups up if you see conversation going stale.
What people want is an environment where they will meet 2,3,4 or 5 relevant people, in a relaxed atmosphere where they don’t feel too awkward to introduce themselves. If you give them this, they will leave with a positive impression of the meeting and are more likely to recommend your company to others. Additionally, they will come back for your next event.
How Many Guests to Invite to a Networking Event?
If it is your first networking event, don’t go for 200 people, as it just won’t work. Aim to place up to 40 select people in a room with 6 or 7 of your own team. This will be enough and will be hard work to get. Remember the 50 – 50 – 50 rule: In order to get 40 people to attend, you would have to invite around 160.
Talk Topics for Networking Events
Choosing a talk topic for a networking event is very important. The more relevant the topic, the more people will be interested in attending. Take care to choose a topic that will appeal to your target market. Asking for suggestions for regular group members is an easy way to find out what people are looking for.
Positioning your business in line with the chosen speaker is an excellent marketing opportunity. For example, I could ask Savills to talk about the start-up office space market, because they are one of the largest office space agents. Hosting an event with them therefore aligns Carrwood Park with their business and positions us alongside them for credibility in that area.
Absolutely DO NOT try to sell to people in the topical talk. They already know who you are and what you do. You should be offering them free advice and not a sales pitch. If you must sell to them, this can be done via a phone call the next day or in a follow-up e-mail.
Concluding and Following up a Networking Meeting
If you have done a good job of setting the networking meeting up, choosing a relevant topic and making introductions, the second part of the networking section should happen quite naturally. If your guests drift away then you didn’t do a good job of the introductions during the first half of the event. If this happens, try to catch people as they look to leave and ask if they met x, y or z (or if there was anyone they would like to meet and didn’t) then do an introduction or e-mail an introduction the next day.
Placing a feedback form on each of the seats will give you good feedback. Carefully crafted questions for lead nurturing will allow you to be more effective with your follow-ups the next day.
And finally, do ensure you send follow up emails the very next day.
I hope this has given you a brief overview and some useful tips for organising networking meetings.
If you are looking for meeting rooms in leeds or would like to discuss any of these points in more detail, please do give me a call on 0113 385 4480.