Entrepreneurs and business owners attend networking events in an effort to make connections, promote their services and generate new business. Often, these events are disappointing, as they turn out to be simply receptions where guests mix and mingle over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Over time, retaining entrepreneurial members can be a challenge if they are unable to justify their memberships in terms of R.O.I.
I have had the pleasure of organizing the monthly meetings for 3 professional associations. This experience, stretching over a period of 6 years provided an opportunity to experiment with a variety of networking formats. Associations and conference planners can use these formats to spice up their networking events and improve their value for their members who are businesses owners.
Elevator Pitches and Cards
This format is used by lead clubs like BNI and LeTip that meet weekly to network. At the beginning of the event, participants are given an outline with a formula for creating a brief and targeted elevator pitch:
"I am (Name and Title) from (company or business) and I specialize in (your services) to help (identify target market) + benefit or your services or products. My ideal referral is + description."
Other attendees have an opportunity to write down the name and phone number of a business or individual who they feel would benefit from the service. After their elevator pitch, the person who made it collects the cards and passes his or her card to each attendee who gave a referral, one to keep and one to pass on to the individual who could us the services.
Commercials and Collection
This format is similar to elevator pitches and cards except that 4 members volunteer to pass plates trays or buckets with the business cards of the person who made the elevator pitch. (They are passed in the same manner as collection plates are passed at church.) Individuals who have referrals can drop their cards on the plate and collect a couple of cards from the plate. Cards collected are then passed to the member.
Reward the individuals who volunteered to pass the trays with the opportunity to make a longer presentation.
Speed Dating Format
This format is similar to a speed dating event. Half of the participants sit at a table, the other participants circulate. Depending on how many people are in attendance, allot 5 - 10 minutes of interaction before ringing a bell to signal that it is time to change tables.
Member Showcases or Mini-Trade Shows
This is a more structured set-up. Attendees have a chance to sign up ahead of time for a table to display their products, services and brochures. Provide a floor plan identifying the location of each exhibitor and summarizing their products or services in point form.
At the beginning of the evening, give each exhibitor an opportunity to make an elevator pitch or 1 minute presentation about their services. For the rest of the evening give members an opportunity to mix, mingle and visit with exhibitors.
Organize the group into circles of 4. Members will spend 40 minutes in their circle. Each member gets to spend 5 minutes describing their business or a specific issue or challenge that they are facing. Then, 5 minutes are devoted to obtaining referrals or advice from the other attendees in the circle. After 40 minutes, members move to another circle. 3 rotations and the opportunity for in-depth networking with 9 - 12 people is possible in one evening. The event can end with informal networking.
Associations can use these formats for quarterly networking events, structured networking at their conferences or pre-event networking sessions at their monthly meetings. Whatever format you choose, don't fall into a rut. Instead, use various formats to keep networking events interesting, engaging and interactive.
What networking formats have you found beneficial?
For more networking tips, also read Conference Networking Idea: Fire Up The Cab Shares on the Cvent Event Blog.
Photo Credit: Corporate Event Planning, Executive Oasis International