Whether in-person, virtual, hybrid, or webinar, all events provide an opportunity for networking. The event format itself may dictate to what degree that networking can take place – for example, an in-person informal afternoon event may allow for more than a forty-minute webinar - but one of the core benefits of these events is the opportunity to create long-lasting connections.
Along with brand building, developing relationships with your existing and potential clients should be one of the main objectives of your event, especially for B2B brands.
So, while more finite, trackable metrics such as signups or sales are nice to have, they shouldn’t be considered the be-all and end-all when it comes to analysing event effectiveness and ROI.
So how do you make the most of the opportunities networking events present?
Networking Events: Plan Ahead and Consider All Angles
If you know that it’s going to be one of the key objectives for your event, and you want to maximise your odds for success, then make sure you consider how you’ll promote and support networking from the start of your event planning process.
With any event, there are three key stages: pre-event, during the event, and post-event. Networking has a part to play in each of these, so when you’re planning each element, consider how you can support it.
There’s plenty to think about before your event, from choosing presentation and speaker topics, finding venues, enlisting suppliers, and much, much more. Pre-event is when you can also lay the foundations for networking at your event; firstly, in defining your schedule and secondly in your pre-event communications and marketing.
Firstly, think about your event schedule. Whether you’re running your own product launch event, taking part in an exhibition, or just inviting clients for a meeting, you could consider carving out a portion of your event and dedicating it specifically to networking. For larger events, this could form part of your event running order. But for smaller meetings, you might simply follow your main activity with an informal coffee and a chat.
For some attendees, networking is what events are all about. For others, not so much. As with any marketing activity, you’ll have a range of different people coming with a range of different ways that they like to interact. And you should embrace that variety as much as you can.
So, think about your demographic and the sorts of things that would pique their interest. You could even ask your invitees pre-event for their views on the ways that they might like to network at your event. You could then offer different networking opportunities to suit different tastes.
For example, perhaps some with more formally recognised timeframes (think “join us for a drink at 7 pm after the main event for an opportunity to network with our colleagues”) and others with a less structured approach (think “thanks for your interest, it would be great to have a coffee if you have time”).
Make sure that anything which is a little more formally arranged is well advertised as part of your event marketing activities. Letting people know in advance that there’s a networking opportunity after the main event means that plans can be made in advance for those that may be interested.
If you can garner interest as part of RSVPs or other feedback mechanisms then all the better, as you’ll be able to ensure you dedicate enough resources for your anticipated number of attendees.
Technology can help here. Using an event management solution will allow you to send invites, monitor responses, and provide bespoke user experiences based on either previous knowledge of your audience or the feedback provided as part of the invite process.
When thinking about where your networking activity will take place, consider using a separate area from where attendees may have felt more “on the job” at your event.
At an exhibition, this may be a separate part of your booth or to an entirely different part of the exhibition hall, or even a nearby hotel. On a webinar or virtual event, you may use a virtual breakout area. For an in-person product launch day, you might use a separate room at your venue.
Subconsciously, your audience will feel more at ease by moving to a different, perhaps more relaxed, or informal area or location.
The more at ease they feel, the more likely they are to be open to connecting on a human level. And by giving people the opportunity to “let their work guard down” you’ll likely find you’re able to glean more insights and make stronger connections.
Of course, not all networking is about being social, and it’s not to say that it’s the best approach in all scenarios. You’ll have to make a judgement on this based on the type of event you’re running, your audience, and your objectives.
However formally or informally you choose to approach networking, as the organiser or host, make sure you maintain a level of professionalism. Allow people to talk and be genuine, but don’t ask probing, personal questions – coming across as nosey or creepy isn’t going to do your brand any favours!
Once your event is up and running, it’s time to network. Whether part of a formally recognised networking breakout session on a virtual event or simply through talking with your audience at an in-person exhibition, (or anything else!), make sure you grasp the opportunity to get to know who you’re talking to, their interests, why they’ve chosen to make the effort to join your event, and how you might be able to help them.
Using an event management technology solution is a great way to track engagement. You can draw on the information you already hold from the invite process (or from previous events and marketing data) to have a head start on the conversation and to keep track of new insights against that customer data record.
You can also quickly and easily add brand-new contacts that can then synchronize seamlessly with your CRM and back-office systems. If your event has a virtual element, you may be able to gain even further insights based on in-event feedback.
A core benefit of harnessing technology to support you while networking at your event is that it makes it that much quicker and easier to recall and record attendee data.
You can focus on having a conversation and getting to know your audience better, rather than wrangling with a range of disparate apps, relying on dodgy scanners you’ve paid exhibition organisers for, or having to hand scrawl notes on bits of paper that are liable to be illegible, get lost or give your attendees cause for concern about their data integrity.
After your event, it’s important to keep those lines of communication open to see the benefits of your networking efforts.
Make sure you follow up with the connections you’ve made. If you’ve used a good technology solution throughout, then you’ll have a great level of insight and understanding into each of your attendees’ positions. Use that insight to provide tailored post-event marketing that speaks to their needs and the challenges they face.
It’s a good idea to make sure you have post-event messages and collateral ready for each of your main areas of focus before the event even starts. That way, after the event, you can spend a little time simply tailoring them and they can be sent that much sooner.
Being timely with follow-up communications means you’re much more likely to be remembered and, as a result, you’ll see better levels of engagement. If you have other events coming up, then strike while the iron is hot and invite those that you feel would be a good fit based on the insights you’ve made.
As we’ve mentioned throughout, utilising a robust, comprehensive, and purpose-built technology solution is your best bet for maximising the unique networking opportunities that events represent.
A trusted solution gives you additional peace of mind as it’s available for any event format of any size and can not only support you in networking endeavours but takes the strain out of your entire event management process.
Want to take your networking events to the next level? Learn how Cvent’s solutions can help support all your networking events.