4 Fantastic Formats to Add Power to Your Networking Event

One of the main reasons that participants give for attending conferences and trade shows is “for the networking.” When a networking event does not meet their expectations, chances are they will not be back next year. Associations face a similar challenge, members who are not satisfied with the quality of networking won’t renew their memberships.

Sometimes, event organizers assume that networking will happen automatically. Bring a group of individuals together and serve them hors d’oeuvres and beverages and you’ll end up with a receptions or cocktail party, not a networking event. An effective networking event is strategic, structured, and focused.

Relationship-Building

Remember, effective networking is not just transactional. It’s about relationships. So, incorporate relationship-building into your design.

Always give participants 30 minutes to mingle informally before and after any structured networking approach.

  • Begin with informal mingling.
  • Provide the instructions for structured networking.
  • End with more informal networking.

After the discipline of a structured approach, conversations will be more focused.

Structured networking is much more fruitful than an event that involves free-flow “mixing and mingling” for the entire evening.

Preparing for Your Networking Event

Be sure to let participants know in advance the format for the event. Ask them to come prepared with plenty of business cards and their Rolodex or contact list.

After informal mingling, give participants five minutes to prepare an elevator pitch or describe the type of referral they are seeking.

  • Suggested format for elevator pitches:

    • Name, Position, Company
    • I/we specialize in (product or service) to help (target market) + benefit.
    • My/our ideal lead is (specific description).
  • Suggested format for referral requests:

    • Name, Position, Company
    • I/we specialize in (product or service) to help (target market) + benefit.
    • I am looking for (describe the specific individual, product, or service you are seeking).

 

4 Effective Networking Formats

Some readers may think, that these formats are way too structured. Perhaps they are but these approaches will result in more participants leaving with leads or information they find useful.

Ask participants to track all leads and referrals that they hand out.

  1. Commercials and Collection

One of the most effective approaches to networking was introduced by BNI. Networking Queen, the late Donna Messer, used this approach with great results for many decades. Some Chambers of Commerce call it “One Minute on a Mike.”.

  • Each participant has time to stand and give their one minute elevator pitch or referral request.
  • Give everyone present an opportunity to write any leads or referrals on the back of business cards (one lead per card). These should consist of the name, phone number, and email address for the lead and identify the specific service/product that may interest them.
  • Runners should pass a bucket or collection plate to gather the cards.
  • Runners give all collected cards to the participant who gave the elevator pitch. This approach works best with four runners to reduce delays.
  1. Speed Networking

Similar to a speed dating event, the room is set up with small tables that can each accommodate two people. Participants will get through twelve paired interactions in two hours.

  • The first person gives his or her introduction and an elevator pitch or referral request.
  • The person across from them makes every attempt to provide contact information for someone who may need their services or who can help them.
  • After five minutes, there is a buzzer or bell to signal the fact that it is time to switch roles.
  • At the second buzzer, one participant at each table moves to the next table.
  1. Power Networking Circles

Group tables in clusters of six tables with six participants per table. Number the tables A1, A2, A3…., B1, B2, B3….etc.

The format is similar to speed networking.

  • Each individual has five minutes to give an elevator pitch, request a referral or describe a problem he or she is facing.
  • After the first bell, the other five people at the table do their best to assist the individual.
  • At each 10 minute bell, the next person in the circle has a turn.
  • After an hour, ask people to number off and switch to a different table within their cluster (e.g. A or B).
  • After a break, continue the process.
  1. App Generated Networking

The power of apps is that you can pre-load information about participants. Add a networking tab where each participant can fill in an elevator pitch or referral request. Provide time slots in the calendar for a structured networking event at a specific time and place. Fifteen-minute slots work best. Provide slots for a 1 – 1 ½ hour structured networking sessions.

Encourage participants to pre-schedule appointments with each other as soon as possible. Since procrastination is part of human nature, provide time during one of the general sessions for participants to send and reply to connection requests.

During the networking session, participants meet during their pre-scheduled connection times.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the evening, remind everyone to give their colleagues a “heads up” about who will be contacting them and the reason for their contact. If the networking event is part of a conference or tradeshow, encourage participants to continue to connect with each other.

Effective networking happens by intent not by accident. While the four networking formats presented here may be more structured than your current approach, many associations and conferences have used them with great success. Participants will be satisfied with the results and a satisfied participant is much more likely to return.

What’s Next?

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of