Hosting a networking event; it sounds fancier than it needs to be. You don’t need to be a CEO or a socialite to plan a successful and influential networking event at a young age. Whether you’re hoping to make a career change, want to elevate yourself within your career, or simply want to make connections in your city, I recommend hosting a networking event.
Hosting an event means you get to tailor it to what you want out of an event AND position yourself as a leader. It can also develop further than just one event to a networking group or support team. You’re the boss. All sorts of wins. Let’s get cracking.
To help plan your super amazing event, we’ve created a beautiful event planner to go along with these tips and keep track of all your details!
Just like anything in life, the hardest part of planning a networking event is beginning. So where to begin?
Before you whip out a guest list or venue options, think about the overarching goals of your event. What do you want to accomplish from this event? Who do you want to meet? What image do you want to portray? What benefit will your event provide to others?
Some categories to help define your goals are:
- Professional development
- Young professionals
- Social event
- Topic-specific networking
- Alumni network
- Age connections
- Common professional goals
- Common personal interests
Identifying which of these categories is important to you will help you set the scene, decide who to invite, and decide where to host.
Once you’ve decided your target audience and ideal event, you can start thinking about how to invite the ideal attendees. How you find these people will vary depending on what sort of networking event you want to host.
I suggest hosting your event’s registration on a pre-made event platform such as Meetup or Eventbrite. That will take a lot of headache out of the administrative work and will also advertise for you to the millions pre-registered on those sites. So, do keep in mind that when choosing who to invite, you’re not going to have to manually handpick every single invitee.
If there are particularly influential people in the niche related to your event (in other words, if there are specific people you want to invite beyond those who might just find your event online), I highly suggest cold e-mailing them. You can typically find work e-mails on the company website or on LinkedIn. If you can’t, use the tips in one of my favorite networking articles ever for finding e-mails.
E-mail relevant companies and have them post it on their website. Be careful with your e-mail; you don’t want to come off as soliciting. Make sure that the company realizes this event benefits their employees’ professional development and thus, improves the company.
Because you’re already going use Eventbrite or Meetup for your registration, take advantage of the autopilot advertising that comes with that. Beef up your description, the tags, and categories of the event so that all sorts of people can find it without you having to do anything.
Last but certainly not least, use social media. Create a Facebook event and invite those you already know. Make the event public and allow those invited to invite others. Then, share your event on Twitter and Instagram. Use a service like Buffer to automatically schedule your tweets so that you don’t have to continually advertise manually.
Networking events are so saturated and so hit or miss. For better or for worse, where you host it plays a big role in making sure your event is a win. Here are some ideas:
This is the easiest one and the most popular. I personally think networking at bars is an excellent choice for a venue. At first glance, it may seem somewhat unprofessional to meet those in your industry over happy hour, but a drink or two can really relax people in what can otherwise by a quite awkward situation.
My second favorite sort of networking event is over breakfast. This might have to be for a more intimate crowd, but you can make a big reservation at a cafe or diner and have your event in the morning. This gives the early birds their chance to catch the worm. Then, you don’t have to worry about peoples’ stress levels after a long day at work because they haven’t gone to work yet! And, we know everyone functions better with coffee.
If you want to be sure people have something to do at these events, make it more of an outing. You can have your event at a park, a bowling alley, a pool hall, etc. This takes off that awkward edge of standing around, unsure of what quite to do next or who to talk to.
Rock your networking event
You’ve done all the hard work! Now make sure you get the networking benefits out of it.
Whether you do this task or ask your co-chairs (see below) to do it for you, make sure you keep thorough track of who’s coming. Using platforms like Eventbrite will allow you to check people in right on their site or app; it’s super easy. Depending on what your goals for this event are, you can determine exactly what information you want to collect from your attendees. But, at a minimum, I suggest collecting the following:
- First and last name (obviously)
- Company/ position
- LinkedIn URL (create a group!)
- Personal website (portray on your group’s site!)
- Phone number (depending on how personal you want to get)
Get some co-chairs
Ask some people to be your co-chairs or anchors, however you like to frame it. You can ask them to support you in whatever you need, but one thing I certainly recommend is to ask them to float around then party. It’s their job to make sure no one feels like they have no one to talk to or like they don’t belong. So many people are nervous to go to these events because they are shy, make them remember it was worth it!
Follow-up and keep in touch
Don’t forget to thank everyone for coming and reminding them how great you are and how great your event was! There are a couple ways you can do this to maximize effectiveness. Pick one or all.
Personalized thank yous
Depending on your group size, you can go through and write custom thank yous (cards or e-mails) to everyone that attended. This will show you cared about their attendance and took the time to invite them and meet them. If you do want to do handwritten cards but didn’t get their home address (which I honestly probably wouldn’t provide even if someone asked), send it to their office address!
LinkedIn and/or Facebook group
Organizing a LinkedIn or Facebook group is a great way to keep in touch with that same network and plan events over and over. It also gives your guests a great platform to continue communicating with one another for quick questions and conversation. LinkedIn obviously has the additional benefit of adding your network’s network to your connections.
A website for your group
On the more extreme end of the spectrum is the option to create an entire website for this networking group. If the group really seems to jive and you think would be interested in meeting biweekly or another repeating basis, go for the gold and build a website!
This site can be modeled off of club and network websites. This means it can include an “about” page describing the group, small bios of members of the group (including their personal website), a calendar of events, and whatever else you see fit. This option will take far more work than the others, but you network will really appreciate your effort and perceive your networking event(s) with great value.
Related: how to build a website in 20 minutes.
That was a lot of hard work, but it pays off! The best part is that it will continue paying off, whether you schedule reoccurring events or not. Please let me know how your event goes!