Networking events, often known as ‘mixers’, can be one of best ways for businesses, trade groups, churches, parent teacher associations and just about any group you can think of, to help their members to get to know each other and network. The same is true for conference receptions, parties, or virtually any get together.
But how effective are such events? How many times have you been to a social gathering and seen little isolated groups or cliques of people who already know each other, standing together or sitting passively round a table and effectively excluding anyone else who wants to join the group? Surely that defeats one of the major objectives of holding the event or mixer in the first place? The reason that many events are difficult for people to mix at is because of ‘structural’ problems, in other words, problems involving the location, who is invited, and how the event is run.
Why is successful mixing so important?
If you are in business, meeting new potential customers or people who might be able to refer you to new customers is vitally important and directly correlated to the success of your business. Mixing events are simply too expensive and time consuming for you just to nibble on finger food and talk to friends, colleagues or people you already know. For a business, making as many contacts in as short a time as possible is not a luxury, it is a necessity.
The typical event
The event organizer is relaxing – she has done her job, or so she thinks – she has booked the room, arranged transportation, booked the entertainment, arranged the food, made sure the bar was stocked and hotel staff are on-hand. She is now standing near the edge of the room, looking on, passing an occasional comment to a colleague or hotel worker. The food looks excellent, champagne flows, the room is beautifully decorated and no-one can fault the practical arrangements. She has done her job – or has she?
Unfortunately, what you will probably see is a few groups of people standing around with people in each group apparently knowing each other already. It is easy for them to catch up and enjoy a relaxing chat. Particularly as their company is picking up the tab for the food and drink. These groups normally position themselves as a small circle facing inwards – utterly impregnable to anyone who doesn’t know them, each back was like an armadillo shell! If things are left to their natural course, such an evening characterized by inward looking cliques or loose collections of strangers unsure how to connect effectively is likely to be a disappointment for everyone concerned. But what can be done to improve this situation?
How organizers can improve their events
As with any good event, it all begins with excellent planning. Making sure that you invite the right people to an event is a great start.
Get your invitations right
Personal invitations will always get a better response than an invitation sent by e-mail or in the mail. Segmented invitations Invitations to functions at churches, chambers of commerce and so on are invariably extended to the whole membership. There is the danger in this of the same little groups or cliques forming each time. A new approach is needed to revitalize the meetings and the attendance.
Personal invitations to subject specific events, segmenting the potential “invitation base” and appealing to a group that will have this subject in common, can be an effective alternative to the general networking event. For example, individuals could be invited to attend a meeting for those intending in the media or industrial products. Members involved in these industries would be invited and a general invitation would be extended to those interested in working with these professionals.
Organizers should also consider limiting the number of people form any specific company or organization. Not only will this give a greater impression of exclusivity but will also prevent the worst excesses of company cliques standing together.
Always provide name badges. Even if you try very hard to remember someone’s name, there is a good chance that at a large gathering which spans several hours, you may forget someone’s moniker. A badge provides a discreet reminder. Event organizers should produce badges before an event – ideally with large type. If you don’t know ahead of time who will be attending, the organizer should provide a sufficient quality of sticky badges and marker pens.
“Get to know you” games
The following are a few simple games and techniques that may be used to get people to know each other.
The introduction game
Divide the group into pairs, find out the following about the other person:
- where were you born,
- an interesting fact about yourself
- and what do you do in your spare time.
The next step is for three of the groups of two to get together and each person introduced the other one. It is a little embarrassing, but you meet a new person.
Divide your group into, roughly, two groups of equal size. Have the groups stand in a line facing each other. Each person has to introduce themselves and what they do in about thirty seconds or a minute (depending on the size of the group). They also exchange business cards. When the time is up, the organizer needs to blow a whistle, ring a bell or use some other clear way of indicating to every one that the time is up. At this point everyone moves to the next person in the line. The process begins again. The people at the ends of the lines need to ‘loop’ around so that they are at the start of the line. You might need to help them with this. When everyone has met everyone else the process stops. Make sure that you allow for the time to do this process – although it does no harm to break things up after a time even of all the combinations of meetings have not taken place.
If the event organizer is able to take part in the process, she should as it really helps as it is not good to appear too “stand offish.”
Business card bingo
When people enter the room for the first time, make sure that they drop their business cards into a hat. Ask them to jot an interesting fact on to the back of the card. You will also need to make sure that you have an exciting prize to offer as an incentive in this game.
When everyone arrives, attendees are given about fifteen minutes to go around the room and collect about 6 business cards each. In so doing they need to get to know the person’s name form whom they are getting the business card and a little about his business. At this point in the exercise everyone should have a mixture of 6 different business cards. The ‘caller’ then draws business cards out of the hat at the entrance and the winner of the exercise is the first person to have all the cards drawn.. The caller keeps on drawing the business cards until someone has a ‘full house’ – i.e. all the business cards. In the event of a draw, the winner will be decided by a series of questions about the people whose business cards are part of the 6 drawn. These questions could be an interesting fact – if they wrote about it on the back or the card – or simply what their company does.
When people come in, give each of them a small colored stickers. Try and give them out in roughly similar numbers, and don’t use too many colors. At an appropriate point, early in the gathering ask everyone to try and find all the other people with their color. Its silly – but its fun – and even the most shrinking of violets will be forced to talk as they search the room for their color. This game is usually best used with groups of over about 25. Once the groups are formed the members must discover what businesses they represent and swop business cards.
Another variation of this is for the event organizer to put appropriate business groups together in the same color group, rather than randomly putting people in groups, This makes the networking more likely to be of benefit to the group members. For example, the red group could consist of a graphic designer, a printer, a promotional products representative, a direct marketer, a journalist and a representative from a local newspaper. This combination of professions can potentially work successfully together and their conversations should be mutually beneficial.. This contrasts with the typical chamber of commerce mixer which can feel like a children’s hide and seek game. After pushing into a conversation, requiring boldness and nerve, it takes a few seconds to realize that the new acquaintance’s business is of no relevance to you. More effort is needed to extricate yourself from the unhelpful liaison, before another attempt is made at finding the perfect business associate who is apparently playing hide and seek.
A networking event could be transformed if a method was organized, such as the game described, to ensure the meeting of professionals from mutually beneficial categories.
Greeting people as they arrive
A very good way of starting the mixing process is to have someone stand at the entrance in order to shake the hand and meet everyone who enters the room. This works best when the person doing the greeting is a fairly senior or important person for the organization hosting the meeting. It works less well if the person doing the greeting is a junior. In my experience, the least successful way of greeting people is to employ some sort of professional greeter. I have been greeted by clowns and look-a-likes and it was just plain embarrassing. How much more effective if the CEO of the company could have stood at the door and shaken everyone’s hand – rather than talking animatedly with his cronies by the bar.
Find more event and party planning resources at: social-mixing.blogspot.com/.