The Epic Guide To Planning A Networking Event

In early 2014, I started looking to meet new people but I didn’t want to be in a “happy hour” group.

I wanted to be part of an organization with substance… But as it turns out, there aren’t a whole lot of young professionals groups that are focused on professional development more than they are on partying.

So, I started my own group.

We started on Meetup as South Florida Young Professionals and eventually outgrew the platform.

We eventually moved to our own site (where you are now), used our Facebook page, group and email list to communicate and sold tickets through EventBrite.

Our primary goal is very simple: to develop young professionals and to put them in the right place, both mentally and physically, to create a better community.

Our long-term goal is to become the largest and most influential young professionals organization in the country (as it stands, there are tons of career specific young professionals groups, but there isn’t an organization that’s focused on bringing young professionals together across industries to build them up).

We started out by hosting mostly social events because they’re the easiest to get people to attend.

As we evolved, we grew a heavy focus on self-development and service, but always make sure to have our fun.

With that said, if I had to guess, I would say I’ve hosted at least fifty happy hour/social events and can easily draw 50-100 people to an event.

Because I’ve hosted so many networking events, I have it down to a science.

The purpose of this whole back story wasn’t to brag but just to make sure that you know this isn’t just fluff.

I’m giving you all of the strategies that I use that have helped me consistently host successful events.

In the interest of length, this post is specifically written about hosting networking mixers.

I could get into the details of hosting a dozen different types of events, but mixers are by far the simplest to host and the easiest to put together and starting a mastermind group is a close second.

Let’s get started.

Planning A Networking Event

Purpose

Besides wanting to get people together, the first thing that you have to decide is the purpose of your event.

… Is it to build professional relationships?

… Maybe raise money for an organization?

… Make a new announcement?

… Raise awareness for a cause?

… Recruit members?

Be specific.

While you’re planning your networking event, you should know what your “one thing” is.

Don’t skip this part… You need to know what your purpose is so that the rest of the decisions in the planning process are infinitely easier to make.

We run our events as series.

Each of our workshop series has 4 workshops, a service project and 2 social events over four months.

Of the social events, the first is a free, new member mixer for people to come and hangout with us where the goal is to recruit new members.

Your purpose and structure doesn’t have to be as formal as ours, but you need to have a specific purpose in mind.

You’ll have dozens of decisions to make in planning your networking event and when it comes time to promote it, you’ll need to be able to communicate it’s purpose in a clear and concise way.

Without a purpose, it’s just another random event that people might go to if they feel like.

A powerful purpose will compel them to want to join you for the event.

Start working on that now.

Demographics

Next, you need to know your target audience.

Everyone talks about having a niche, I know.

If you’re like I was, you probably want to just skip past the unsexy part and get to the planning.

Don’t do it!

It’s the most important part of having a successful event.

Your demographics don’t have to be by age like ours is… Your focus can be on gender, interest, religion, political affiliation, whatever you want it to be.

The goal of a networking event is to put like-minded people together, so focus on getting specific about the type of people at the event rather than quantity.

People will have a better time if there’s only 10 people who attend and they have great conversations than if there’s 100 people that they can’t connect with.

For us, we target young professionals ages 21-40 who want to make an impact on the community. Our average member is 25-35 and is a few years into their career already.

Knowing this makes planning and marketing the rest of the networking event easier because you know how to target them and you exactly what the attendees are looking for and what they expect. 

We are strict on the 40 year old age limit because there’s tons of events for professionals where the audience is in their 40’s and 50’s and there aren’t enough for young professionals.

I’ve actually asked people who were over 40 to leave our events because our members come back because they know what to expect and if we start straying away from that, their loyalty will waver (and every time we lose focus on our purpose, we HAVE lost them).

Target Number of Attendees

Personally, I don’t like when events get bigger than 50 people.

When there’s more than that, people resort to treating their business cards like frisbees and throwing them at anyone and everyone because FOMO (the fear of missing out) kicks in.

Our attendees get overwhelmed with too many people and lose depth in their conversations.

I love mixers of 30-50 people because you can talk to a decent number of them in 2 hours, it’s intimate enough where you can build great relationships, people will remember you, the people who are a little shy don’t get overwhelmed and you will have conversations that will lead to a welcomed follow-up. 

It’s also easier to remember names and give introductions when there’s only 30-50 people at the event.

Will you charge?

At first, I was really resistant to charging for our events because I didn’t want attendance to drop.

However, once we finally started charging, our attendance actually grew because people put a value on things they have to pay for.

I’m not saying you have to charge, just don’t have to be afraid of it.

HOWEVER…

If you’re going to charge, just make sure you’re offering something in return (drink tickets will suffice – more on that in the venue section).

Originally, we would charge sporadically for events to cover our costs and it worked fine, but our organization really blew up when we implemented our subscription model.

The membership gets you into all of our events.

The stakes are absolutely higher from a leadership standpoint when you charge on a subscription basis, but it makes it easier to host events because you don’t have to work as hard at promotion.

If someone doesn’t want to join, they can still come to our events for $25/event, but as you can see, joining is the better deal.

Leveraging People

When I’m working on a project, I’m a little (ok, I’m lying) I’m very meticulous.

Our members will tell you that they call me crazy because of how detailed I am about our events.

You could probably argue that I’m borderline OCD…. That’s because if my name is on it, I expect it to be extraordinary.

While that might sound great and all, it’s terrible for delegation purposes and my stress levels.

That puts 100x more work on me.

I’m still working on leveraging because you can’t plan a great networking event if you do it all by yourself.

I’ve learned that people will absolutely contribute (and be excited to do so) but you have to make them feel like their contribution is valued and welcome.

Saying thank you isn’t enough – make them feel like you need their help.

Go ahead, let that ego down.

You do need them and you’ll put on a better event with the help of others.

Make Your List

Next, you want to have at least 5-10 people who are influencers in your target demographic.

I’ll start by saying I didn’t do this at the beginning, but I wish I had.

Find a few people who are really passionate about whatever your purpose is and get them onboard and do yourself a favor… Get them onboard when you first start planning the event.

More than anything, you’ll need help with your invite list, promoting the event and venue suggestions or introductions.

If you know anything about millennials, we want to do things that have a purpose.

If you’re asking an acquaintance for an introduction, they’re not going to get excited.

If you ask them to help you put together an event so that you can raise money for a cause, I’m willing to bet that their attitude will change.

By having these influencers, you’ll establish credibility around your event instantly which will make all of the above easier.

Remember, promotion is going to be your toughest battle (especially if this is your first event).

People are bombarded with hundreds of invites and bits of information every second so you’re going to have to deal with the people who just don’t take action because they’re already overwhelmed by information.

Your influencers will make it easier to create buzz around your event.

Finding the Venue

When you’re finding a venue, my suggestion is to always go with a newer restaurant or bar.

Established places usually charge for the use of their rooms because they can.

Newer places need to get people in the door and your attendees will appreciate it because it’s somewhere they haven’t been before.

This is where knowing if you’re going to charge or not comes in handy. I can’t speak for everywhere, but here in South Florida, most places will offer drink tickets for their happy hour price… Most places will charge me $5 per drink ticket and we pay at the end.

I’ve also had places charge me just for the bartender in the private room and they offered a free drink ticket and appetizers.

It really depends on what they’re willing to do but you won’t know until you start the conversation.

Approaching the Venue

Instead of reaching out via email or by phone, I recommend you go to the venue that you’d like to host at and ask for the manager.

Yes, you absolutely read that right.

Trust me, it’s easier that way. Tell them that you want to bring 30-50 people to buy drinks from them and wanted to know if you could use their private area.

By being there, you’ll get all of the kinks worked out, know exactly where you’ll be and how the event will flow.

A few things to look for:

  • Whatever you do, make sure that the networking event is in it’s own private area. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to figure out who belongs to the group because there’s people walking back and forth through the group to go to the other side of the restaurant or to go to the bathroom.
  • Make sure the venue is small enough that it forces people to be close to each other – they’ll talk to each other that way. Think of it like a middle school dance – you have to get everyone interacting because they’re all scared of each other. Having a small venue makes that way easier.
  • This is a small detail that most people will overlook but it makes a difference. Make sure that the venue isn’t long and narrow. Your attendees will move around less and talk to less people because they don’t want to draw the attention of everyone by walking through the crowd to get from one end to the other. Networking doesn’t come naturally to most people so make sure that you do everything you can to make them comfortable.
  • Don’t give them too many places to sit. You want people on their feet so they’ll move around and talk to each other. As soon as they plant their butts in a chair, they instantly close off and stop talking to people.

If you decide not to charge, you’ll still want to let the venue know that you’re bringing a group.

They may still offer to give you drink tickets and light appetizers on the house (that’s a nice extra but don’t count on it).

Make sure that you’ve worked out how attendees will find you once they get there.

After meeting with the venue, confirm with the venue representative in an email everything that you’ve talked about, ensure that you’ve worked out payment (if there is any) and that you’re on the same page with expectations.

If anything changes, keep the venue in the loop. There’s nothing they hate more than having to accommodate major last minute changes.

By now, you’ve planned the major parts of your event.

You have your influencers, know how to convince someone to come to your event with your clear and concise messaging, and you’ve secured your venue.

I know this is a lot, so I created a whole workbook on planning a powerful networking event for you.

Next up, it’s time to start promoting the event.

The Grind: Promotional Frenzy

Designing the Marketing Materials

Now comes the fun (and stressful) part…

The marketing. 

*Cue Law & Order style duh-duh*.

If you’ve never heard of Canva, you better become besties with the platform.

It’s the best way to design pretty much anything and it’s free to use (they charge $1 for some of their templates or their images, but you can import your own images for free).

You can design your flyer quickly and painlessly using their beautiful templates.

You can let everyone think that you spent lots of money on your marketing, but we’ll keep the Canva secret between us!

Create the Event Online

If you’re putting this together as a recurring event, you’ll need to figure out what platform you want to use.

Meetup is awesome for bringing a constant flow of new people to your events but I absolutely abhor their limited capabilities to communicate with members – so if you use Meetup, don’t let that be your main source of communication.

You’ll want to direct them to a different signup form so you can get an email address and phone number.

Whether you’re doing this to start a group or just a one-time event, create a Facebook event for it and then direct everyone to RSVP on EventBrite.

I freaking LOVE EventBrite. 

EventBrite is so user-friendly, beautiful and full of amazing stats… and to top it off, they have an app called “Organizer” which makes it beautiful and simple to check people in at the networking event too.

However you decide to promote the event or start growing your group, I recommend using EventBrite as the place where you have people RSVP or buy tickets.

Facebook & LinkedIn

Now that you the event setup and the flyers put together, it’s time to go to work on promoting the crap out if it (the crap is definitely necessary because if you don’t overdo it, you’re not going to have the success you’re looking for).

Firstly, you’re going to have to introduce the event to your network. I recommend starting about 2 weeks in advance.

Invite everyone to the event on Facebook. Most people leave it at sending an invite but a lot of people ignore invites, so this is just a warmup.

A few things about promoting…

  • If your Facebook page (not you, the individual) hosts the event, you can boost the event (as in pay to have it seen by more people). There are tons of articles and videos about boosting posts. In my experience, if you spend $10-$20 for the 3 days before the event, you’ll get a few more attendees than you would have had otherwise and you’ll stay top of mind for the people who were “maybes”.
  • Make sure you promote the event in groups too. For us, there’s a bunch of young professionals groups on both Facebook and LinkedIn, so I always post them there too. The key to getting people’s attention in groups is that you have to make the event stand out. There are dozens of event invites going through those groups, so be different.

So once you’ve done all of that, start promoting the crap out of it on your personal page and get your influencers to do the same. Please…I repeat…PLEASE…DO NOT USE LANGUAGE LIKE:

“RSVP today!”

“It would really mean a lot to me if…”

“Come support!”

Wording like “RSVP today!” has ‘I’m going to sell you something’ written all over it.

For the rest of the god awful wording above, no one cares about you.

I’m not being mean but people are not going to go out of their way to support you, no matter how much you have a winning personality.

Regardless of what they tell you, they’re going to go because it will benefit them.

They might even donate money, but it’s not to support you — it’s because it makes them feel good to donate.

They might come, but it’s because they wanted to, not because you wanted them to.

All of your marketing needs to be centered around how it benefits them.
The wording above says ‘I’m special so you need to care about me’ rather than ‘you’re special so I want you at the event.’

If you have an issue with this new approach, that’s probably because you’re putting your ego above the success of your event.

I know this because I’ve been there before.

Being that I target millennials, my marketing approach might be a little more playful than if you were targeting a little bit of an older or different demographic.

I have a ton of fun with my marketing (it’s my favorite part of both selling real estate and running my organization).

I can’t tell you how many compliments I get on how much people love my Facebook and Snapchat presence – not because I do anything special, but because I keep it super positive, fun and informational.

A lot of what they love is how I promote my events.

When I first started, I was 100% certain that I was going to lose a bunch of friends because I was so annoying about the events.

Now, I’m always going for a laugh when I’m promoting our events and they love it. I can’t speak for promoting on LinkedIn yet because I’ve just started becoming really active here, so I’m still finding my voice.

Every post can’t be about the event.

Social media’s algorithms will only show some of your posts, so make sure your posts aren’t spammy.

Focus on the 411 rule.

The rule says you should post four posts that are not related to business, 1 post that’s informative and 1 post can be salesy. I follow this rule normally, with the exception of the 3 days before an event… Which leads me to ‘the blitz’.

The Blitz

Three days before the event, I go on an absolutely ridiculous promotional blitz.

Want to read the rest of this post?

Grab the Empire Builder Pass to get the full length version of this post and you’ll learn:

  •  How I do my three day blitz to get the most eyeballs on the event that I can
  •  How to get people to show up — and not just mark “interested” on Facebook
  •  Get people to participate in the event with a simple trick that’s so easy, you’ll laugh
  • Follow up after the event to keep them engaged and get them to take action

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