1/ Don’t call it a networking event. Self-labeled networking events are often, quite literally, the worst. Filled with desperate job seekers, seeking in all the wrong places, and bad salespeople simultaneously talking past each other, even the cocktails can’t save this three-hour tour. There’s also a bias against the term “networking”, undoubtedly earned by bad actors who only network for their own self-interest and are always searching for the more important person in the room. Instead of a networking event, choose a more inviting alternative that makes the event sound fun (which, it should be, but we’ll get there). Happy Hour, Get Together or Meet and Greet all work better because they hint at new friends and a good time. Making this the first goal of the evening lowers pressure and expectations. The rest is possible bonus-icing on the cake.
2/ The No Carcass Rule- When ordering appetizers, don’t order food that involves a leave-behind in guests’ hands. No spoons, bowls, plates, bones or skewers. Lamb shank is delicious, but after a couple of bites, you look more like Fred Flinstone than someone’s next star hire. This great tip comes from my friend Daniel Erspamer, President of The Pelican Institute in New Orleans—leave it to someone from New Orleans to have great advice on how to throw a party.
3/ Name Tags- Seems like a no-brainer, but I regularly go to events intended for networking and the host fails to provide name tags for their guests. My preferred name tag has first names in large type and last name and company slightly smaller. This tends to encourage attendees to drop formalities and introduce each other by first names, especially important when encouraging networking among high-ranking corporate officers or elected officials. And remember, bring along a few blanks and a black marker, just in case.
4/ Be a host. When you host a cocktail party in your home, you want people to feel welcome as they arrive. Bring this instinct along to your next event. If it is your organization hosting the event, make sure your staff is all tasked with making guests feel welcome, encouraging conversation, facilitating introductions etc.
5/ Use your resources wisely. As with so many things in life, simplicity is key. A staff of five shouldn’t be stretched out to cover every detail – they’re most valuable to the success of the event as hosts. They know the players and the connections that should be made in this crowd. Let that be their focus. Checking people in is a great job for volunteers or temporary paid help. Low on bodies? I have had great success with Task Rabbit-the link includes a $20 coupon when you sign up. Taskers, as they are called, can also be hired to tend bar, make sure guest drinks are filled and tidy up during/after the event