This post is part of a series that comes to us from Anne @UniqueGifter, a website full of awesome gift giving ideas and ways to spice up otherwise mundane wedding gifts, like sheets! Anne recently hosted two speed networking events, as the Vice-President of an industry group. When she had trouble finding the information she needed in order to know how to host a speed networking event, she knew it was time to put her insights to work online.
The first post in the series will cover why people go to networking events // recommended group sizes // how to choose a venue // best option for meal plans // organizing RSVPs // and designing handouts
The second post will give a few examples of room set up variation
The third post will provide information on managing a speed networking event, such as helpful tips on timing // registration // writing an introduction speech // and the best way to organize rotations
In my area, most people work similar hours, so a start time around 6pm works best. If you are planning to include dinner, I would not recommend a start time much later than that, earlier would be preferable, in fact. If you won’t be having dinner, you could opt to start later. It is important to note at the outset that there will be bathroom breaks, so that no one loses out on networking time (their partner would lose out as well!).
20-30 Minutes – Registration, Drinks & Appetizers
20 Minutes – Evening outline, Networking Presentation
5 Minutes – Bathroom & Drinks Break
45-60 Minutes – Networking Rotations
10 Minutes – Bathroom & Drinks Break, Rearrange Tables, Serve Dinner or Switch to Open Conversation Time
30-60 Minutes Later – Make a few wrap up comments & solicit feedback forms
Total: 2-3 Hours
When people arrive, have a clearly marked registration table. Mark them off on the catering list, get them to put on a name tag, hand them a seat assignment and any worksheets. Then tell them they can get drinks or appys and mingle. Name tags were requested after my first event and I used the affordable version of masking tape and a marker for the second one!
It may be helpful to have two people working the registration table, and to have a bit of space. Two people streamline the process a little bit and helps reduce the backlog. People seem to come just far enough apart that you are repeating your spiel and directions ad-infinitum, while trying to get names marked off and name tags found. Space allows people to sit down their purses or jackets, write their name tags, get any change they might need and to pick up any pamphlets or swag you may be handing out.
After you sign people in, give them very clear directions on what to do next. One of the biggest concerns people have at networking events is a need for situations that force them to mingle. Tell people where to put their jackets and strongly suggest that they hold very few things, so that it is easy to shake hands while wielding a drink and a business card collection. Direct them to either sit down in assigned groups, to get a drink (hopefully there is a lineup) or towards appetizers. Also let them know how long it will be until the official program starts and where they need to be when that happens.
sample table assignment letters
As people arrive, give them a Table Assignment chit. Tell them that at your designated start time, they need to be sitting at the table with that letter on it and they need to remember their colour. If you are going to use the long table approach, you can do the exact same approach.
To kick your event off, you will want to do an introduction speech. If people have not drifted to their seats, give them a 2-5 minute warning before you begin. I highly recommend starting with an outline for the rest of the evening. Here is an example,
Thank you to everyone for coming tonight, my name is Anne and I am the Vice President of We All Rock. The plan for tonight is to have a 15-20 minute presentation on networking by Susie from NetworkCoaching, then we will take five minutes to refresh our drinks and go to the washroom before we get into the networking rotations. Please time your bladders accordingly, so that no one misses out on the networking.
We will do 45-60 minutes of rotations, then take another ten minute break before we have dinner. In that break, I’d like to ask for your help pulling the tables into two long tables. (or, After the rotations, we will have another 45 minutes of open mingling time.)
After that, I will say a few wrap up words around 8:30. Susie will explain the ins and outs of the rotations as part of her presentation. To start, I would like to talk about We All Rock for a few moments…
If you can arrange a speaker on the topic of networking, your audience will likely find it very helpful. Another alternative is to do some research and present it yourself. Defining networking, the reasons people are there, how to craft an elevator pitch and following up on new introductions are all good ideas for topics. You do not want this to be too long or your attendees will feel like they are not having a chance to networking, which is why they came.
I outlined why my organization was hosting these events, what people were hoping to get out of the evening, and ran through writing an elevator speech. I used myself as an example for most things. If you are using the handouts above and did not have your attendees fill them in on arrival, designate a five minute block to have people fill in a selection of the boxes. These were not designed to be filled in completely, but only to get discussion topic ideas flowing.
One of the great things about the letter and colour system is that it is quite simple for people to follow. If you have a series of individual tables, set up the table numbers in the most logical order possible and point out the direction of flow to everyone. The last table will need to know that they have to go to Table A next. I recommend rotation times of 4-6 minutes, as they go by very, very quickly, but spending longer greatly reduces the number of introductions you can make in an evening.
sample letter assignments
Tell everyone with orange Table Assignments that they are going to stay where they are and the people with grey chits are going to move to the next letter. If you are doing the 3 people per table system, explain that the outside, purple people (eaters?) will rotate clockwise and the inside, red people, will rotate counterclockwise, while the blue people stay put. Reiterate that the smoother the rotations go, the more people they can meet. Also remind everyone to set their things aside and to only travel with their hand outs, pens and business cards.
You will want a loud microphone/PA system, or a bell and a whistle. Explain that the bell will signal a one minute warning and the whistle will mean rotate. It will be extremely difficult to get people to move when the time is up!! It works best if you do not participate in the networking and only work the sounds, however you can also attempt to multi task. ;-)
Try to strictly enforce the times, otherwise many could easily talk for 10 minutes and only meet three people!
If you are going to have a meal, after the rotations have tables set up, trying to keep them under ten people per table. Tell people they can head to the washroom and ask for some help rearranging the tables. Also direct people to head to their colour table when they return. Send people with the same colour to a table to eat dinner together, as they will not have met people with their colour yet.
If you are not going to have a meal, I recommend having an open mingling period for another 30-60 minutes after the rotations. There are likely several conversations that people want to continue, or people may introduce themselves to additional people. Announce that you have had the final rotation, there will be X time for mingling and drinks and then you will say a few words to wrap up.
The fourth and final post in the series will cover passing out review forms // and follow up emails