These days it seems like networking events are springing up everywhere. No matter where you live and work, you could find a networking breakfast or cocktail reception to go to every day of the week. Many of these events brag about how large they are, and how many people you can meet by attending.
There’s nothing wrong with going to these large events, but many people find them overwhelming, and it’s hard to make good connections in the hustle and bustle of a crowded room. What can you do…?
Try this: put together your own networking event.
It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it can be very rewarding. The goal here is not to have a huge event, but rather one attended by 5–7 professionals that you want to get to know and that you think would benefit from knowing each other.
5 Steps to Your Own Networking Event
1. Pick a place: It helps to make the venue centrally located and easy to access. Coffeehouses and bars work the best (depending on time of day) because then everyone can buy their own beverage and there are no other costs. Restaurants are nice, but then you have to worry about paying for food and all the other hassles.
2. Invite people: It’s best to invite 10–12 contacts – about half will be able to attend. Choose people that you want to network with, but also who you feel will want to get to know each other. Two criteria to look at are their jobs and their personalities. It helps (but is not essential) if everyone shares a common type of customers (e.g., realtors, insurance agents, and mortgage providers).
3. Set a Time: The two best times to meet are right before or after work. You can also meet during the day if you know that all of the attendees have flexible schedules. It doesn’t have to be long, even an hour can be enough time to give everyone a chance to chat.
4. Send the invitations: Email is fine, or depending on your industry, Twitter. You can also give people a quick call. A simple invite works well:
“I’d like to invite you to an informal networking event that I’m planning at Joe’s Coffeehouse on July 17 from 8–9am. There will be 5–10 attendees, and it’s a chance to really get to know some great contacts for your professional network. Please RSVP by July 10; I really hope you can make it.”
5. Network: The whole point of the event is for people to meet each other and have conversations. Because you’re the host and you know everyone (at least by name), be sure to introduce each of the attendees to each other. Because it’s a small group, you don’t need the formality of name-tags. If the group is on the smaller end (around 5) it can be effective to have one conversation going around the table. If it gets bigger, people will naturally want to have a number of side conversations.
Be sure to have everyone pass out their business cards, and encourage the participants to follow up with each other after the event. Not only will you have stronger connections with your network, but everyone will appreciate the new contacts to whom you’ve introduced them!