With an ever more globalised, engaged and connected world, 2020 looks set to be another bumper year for networking. In fact, where once the term simply meant another excuse to get drunk and have an affair at a conference, these days the activity is taken very seriously indeed. Never has so much importance been placed on the informal exchange of ideas in the hope of gaining potentially lucrative connections. If you’re the lucky one organising or hosting such an event, then read on; here are 5 IDEAL tips for running a successful networking event.
PLAN SOME ICEBREAKERS
We’ve all endured the discomfort; you meet someone and after the initial hello and how do you do, awkward silence ensues. Clear your throat, fill the space with inane chitchat, and move on. Well, that’s not exactly a meaningful connection established, now is it? Instead, have an icebreaker (or two) prepared, for when that frosty atmosphere needs thawing.
PREPARE TO LUBRICATE CONVERSATION
As much as you want conversation to flow naturally, having a few questions up your well ironed shirt sleeve to get things moving is no bad thing. Paying a sincere compliment; directly, ‘love your shoes’, or in a more subtle way, ‘care to share some of your insights on…’ works well. Equally, being honest about the forced nature of the situation can thaw relations pretty quickly; ‘I’m useless at this networking stuff, what shall we talk about?’ has an amusing, self-deprecating air. Check out Business Insider’s 19 icebreakers to use at uncomfortable networking events for some inspiration.
THE POWER OF A BADGE
It can be embarrassing when a name is forgotten, or an occupation not mentioned, and before you know it, it’s too late to ask. Badges, worn on the chest with a little personal information, can be a great way to introduce yourself gently and casually without the strained first questions we all fear. Indeed, having a badge on show makes you approachable, enabling others to comfortably interact with you.
Badges are also ideal for guests and delegates to get their brand out there, and can be deployed to display the colours, iconography and key themes of a company’s branding. As such, their use should be encouraged for easily recognisable, retainable visual cues within the networking event. Businesses like One Stop Badges can create personalised badges and pins for such occasions, to differentiate from the slightly cheap, classroom feel of a sticky label.
Top Tip: Alternatively, you could channel the energy of speed dating’s ‘traffic light’ events, with badges of green, amber, and red, to allow attendees to display their willingness to communicate in a decisive, or tentative, way.
But isn’t the point of networking to be a bit like speed dating, to meet as many people as quickly as possible, we hear you ask? Well, not really. When you’ve knocked over a stranger’s champagne, and someone sneezes on your neck, and your elbows keep meeting with strangers, then you’ll understand that it’s all about quality, not quantity here.
Yep, many an otherwise faultless networking events has been rendered a failure by the issue of overcrowding. People need space to breathe, to gesticulate, to think and consider the occasion’s subject matter. A lack of elbow room puts a huge dampener on the potential for ideas to percolate and meaningful connections to form.
DON’T OVER PACK THE SCHEDULE
The nature of networking is sometimes exhausting; endless introductions and inquisitions can get wearying. Real bond forming is diluted in favour of address book notching. You don’t want to worsen it by over packing the programme. People need time to decompress and review the day’s input, and have the chance to chat informally, rather than under strict guidance.
So, keep the schedule light(ish) and breaks regular. Carefully determine every detail of the event to avoid overburdening it with bureaucracy and filler. A positive impression of the networking extravaganza could lead to it becoming an annual event, in turn making you leaders in your field and yours the first name in everyone’s contacts list.
If you’re looking for opportunities to meet people yourself, in a more informal setting, then check out these; our 5 IDEAL apps to help you find events in your area.