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
Why Do People Go to Networking Events?
It is very important to keep this in mind! Part of the answer to this question will determine how you time your event and set it up, such as providing childcare and the type of introduction you give.
First and foremost, you want to organize a speed networking event so that people have a chance to interact with new people.
Virtually all of us, except for a few very extroverted folks, naturally gravitate toward people we already know.
Your job as a speed networking host is to create situations that force people to meet others, without the forced situations being extremely awkward. Some of the easiest ways to do this include assigned seating, clear evening structure and “social lubricant” in the form of alcohol!
Laying appetizers out in different stations with unique options also causes people to walk around the room more, to try the different food options, and make them more likely to converse with more people.
Recommended Group Sizes
There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to planning for speed networking group sizes.
You will need to match up the timing of your event, the venue size and your group size.
Networking Rotations should be 4-6 minutes, with some additional buffer time for moving. You need to decide if everyone will try to meet each other, or if attendees will get to meet 9 other people, etc.
Depending on the nature of your event, most people want to meet everyone if they are in a room of under 50 people. To meet 49 other people for even 4 minutes each, in a one on one setting, will take more than three solid hours. You can do group rotations, however the logistics of who rotates where are a lot more complicated.
I would recommend a group size of 16 to a maximum of 30, or a group of more than 50, but fewer than 100. The noise and ability to rotate in a timely fashion become much more difficult with larger numbers.
Working with a group of 16 to 30, you should be able to allot 45 minutes to an hour to actual rotations, with additional time for presentations, free mingling and a wrap up for an event lasting 2-4 hours depending on details.
How to Choose a Networking Event Venue
You need somewhere that won’t get too loud, too quickly, with a large group of people all talking at once! If possible, I also recommend taking over a space completely, so that regular patrons do not feel unwelcome.
I found that a situation that lets you have tables of two set up with moderate spacing, which can then be pulled into two (or more) large tables for a meal and group chat, work the best. If you only have a space with chairs, that will work too.
I would recommend approaching a small restaurant to see if you can book it out on their quietest night of the week, or on a night that they are usually closed. Often the prices are less than a catered event facility.
Best Options for Networking Event Meal Plans
If you are going to have meals with your event, the smoothest experience I have had so far was a set menu with preordering. Two, maximum three, options works the best. As part of your registration, have everyone select their meal and note any relevant food allergies. This way you can provide nearly accurate numbers to your caterer.
When people arrive, check them off on a list and hand it off to the kitchen. The kitchen can then come out and serve dishes by name. You may find the majority orders one dish and everyone else orders another, so the five people who ordered one thing can simply be called out by name and everyone else can be served easily after that.
I would also recommend having some appetizers included in the price, available on arrival. It will cause some people to mingle and satiate their hunger, as dinner may be later than many are used to after a full day of work. Having a cash bar available also helps with social lubrication and keeps your wait staff happier with their tips!
If you can, use Paypal or Eventbrite to have your attendees pay for their meal and any overhead costs prior to arriving. It makes the registration process easier and also ensures that you have the funds ready to pay the venue.
When requiring pre-payment, ensure you outline your refund policy clearly.
Remember that you will have overhead that needs to be covered, regardless if people show up or not. Caterers usually require final numbers and some things like appetizers are by the tray, not per person.
If you want to do cash at the door, I highly recommend using a Google form (free!) to track your responses and to create a wait list. A combination of a Google form and Paypal on your website is another great way to go. Capture the following and anything else that may be useful:
- Contact Information – email, possibly phone number
- Current Position (job/stay at home/job seeker)
- Meal Selection
- Allergies/Dietary Concerns
- Topic they most want to discuss
You can also use Meetup.com, though there are some fees involved.
Designing Hand Outs
Depending on the backgrounds of your group, you may want to create some handouts. You can locate the handouts that I created by downloading these NetworkingHandouts and saving them if you’d like ideas to help you get thinking about discussion topics.
If your group is very diverse, you may not need them as the time will go by very quickly just discussing where they are from and what they do for work, or what work they are seeking. If your group already has a lot in common, such as working within the same company, directing the conversations with some brainstorming helps a lot.
Networking events are most effective when they are simply the start of a relationship, otherwise all the attendees have done is shake hands. For some, simply being able to put faces to names within a company is a desired outcome, but for most that is insufficient.
Using a brainstorming form to have attendees come up with ways they can help others and with things they currently need help with themselves creates a conversation around a topic which makes them much more likely to communicate again in the future.
Brainstorm topics for needs can be as simple as “I need a salad idea for a dinner party this weekend,” to “I need to develop my public speaking skills” to “I need to talk to someone about some challenges in the merger I’m working on.”
It is important to strike a balance between making people spend half an hour filling out every answer and spending time actually networking, with brainstormed ideas right at the forefront. If you choose to have handouts, have a set few minutes to fill them in, without distractions. I recommend a maximum of five minutes.
If you have waited tables, you can direct attendees to fill them out immediately on arrival, with additional instructions on the page or given verbally. If doing so, ensure that people are directed to a seat where the pages are sitting. Make sure that you provide pens! Even when you specifically ask people to bring pens, many will forget.
You don’t want to discourage conversation, so an instruction of “Please head to your seat and spend five minutes filling in most of the handout before mingling, so that we can get started right away at 6,” will allow for both handout completion and mingling. Another way to ensure that everyone completes them and remains focused is to have a set time after your introduction to fill them out.
The second post will give a few examples of room set up variation
The third post will provide helpful tips on timing // registration // writing an introduction speech // and the best way to organize rotations
The third and final post in the series will cover passing out review forms // and follow up emails
When Anne set out to host this event, she connected with Shannon, lead organizer of the Professional Young Women of Toronto and provider of invaluable information on hosting speed networking events. The group comes highly recommended if you live in the area.