The Ins and Outs of Organizing a Networking Event
Recently, I have been engrossed by Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Texting, Video Calling, Tweeting, and other social media provide platforms for convenient and fast communication. But can they ever replace face-to-face communication, though a dying breed in this technology-dependent world? Hence, networking events are still relevant. Face-to-face communication is becoming a lost art as society gets enchanted by the digital world we live in. This results in atrophy of some important human capabilities, such as empathy, creativity, solitude, and self-reflection, to name a few.
IUSM’s networking committee, NetworkIN, organizes two networking events every year. These events help the IUSM family build outside connections for future opportunities and implicitly encourage and keep alive the beauty of face-to-face communication in this digital era. A lot goes into organizing an event- a theme, camaraderie of committee members, funding, and the number of attendees, to name a few of the many considerations. This blog centers on the 7 steps that go into planning a networking event.
- Planning- Defining the Purpose and Deciding on a Format
The event planning committee should meet at least six months prior to the event to kick-off planning. Usually, a theme/purpose is assigned that defines the networking event. This may require brainstorming of ideas. An innovative name for the event also helps to attract more attendees by appealing to their inquisitiveness.
Theme and event name will be followed by assigning a format. Will it be an informal event where people gather into groups and chat among themselves while new attendees just join in? Will it be more structured with a panel discussion and/or a keynote speaker? Or will it be a combination of both?
Create a time frame for all the needed logistics and stick to it strictly for a successful event.
- Establishing a Budget and Procuring Funding
One of the most important aspects of any event is funding. The committee should unanimously decide on a budget. Internal funding sources within the organization and external sources, such as grants, advertisements, and sponsors, can help in procuring funds for the event.
- Finalizing the Venue, Date, Time and Refreshments
Careful consideration should go into deciding an appropriate venue, date and time to allow maximum attendance. Events during summer or during weekday work-times might not attract as many attendees due to conflicting schedules. Concurrently, an accessible and well-located venue is extremely important in attracting the maximum number of attendees. The format of the event will also define the type of venue. For a more informal event, a brewery serves as a good option, but a ballroom would be more appropriate for a formal event. Venue costs will also dictate the venue choices. The available funding and accessibility are the prime factors. Budget and available funds will also determine the kind and quantity of refreshments for the event. Refreshments logistics will also depend on the venue depending on the tie-ups of catering services with the chosen venue.
- Promotions and Distributions of the Invites
The next crucial step is designing a flyer/advertisement. Promotion of the event is of the utmost importance to have maximum attendance. The flyer should provide the needed information in one glance: the theme of the event, the sponsoring organization name, date/time, venue and RSVP link. The flyer should be shared as widely as possible within the organization as well as participating or prospective organizations. PR of an event is an important step in determining its eventual success. Promote the event through social media, websites, emails, hallway televisions and newsletters, and word-of-mouth.
Further, invites should be sent out to an attendee list (mail-merge is an excellent tool on that front), if available from prior experiences, event attendance, personal connections etc., at least a month prior to the event to allow enough time for the attendees to mark their calendars and commit to the event. A reminder communication should be sent out to the RSVP’d guests.
- The Day of the Event- Be out There, Start the Ice-breaker
All this while you have been behind the scenes working up to make this day happen. Once the day approaches, provide name-tags (always have extra blank ones) for better communication among the attendees. A sign-in sheet at the entry is important to keep track of attendees and to add new attendees to the contact list for future event notifications and invites. Dress appropriately for the event and always have a couple of organizing committee members to greet attendees, help them sign in and familiarize them with other added details.
Now is the time to come into the light. Advertise the organization, a call-out for members (if needed), speak a few words introducing the committee, recognize the committee members and the mission statement of the organization, and finally thank everybody for their participation and attendance. As people disperse into smaller groups, get in there and start the ice-breaker, get people talking, mix-it-up, guide new attendees, such as students, and help them navigate through the vent.
P.S.: It is helpful to identify professionals among the group to help graduate students and post-docs seeking opportunities to navigate around the room.
- Making the Event Mobile-Centric– optional
To introduce some fun to a formal event, such as networking, take advantage of the technology. Encourage attendees to get in groups for a group selfie and upload the photos on the website/social media using the event hashtag. As an organizer, capture moments of the event for social media exposure and memories.
- Wrapping-up, Follow-up Survey and Prepare for the Next Event
The committee should meet immediately after the meeting to discuss the positives and the drawbacks of the event and come up with solutions to make the event better.
Follow-up surveys should be sent to the attendees for their evaluations and comments which should be pooled together for discussion at the meeting
Initiate a discussion for the next event.
Organizing a networking event may be nerve-wracking but it is an extremely fun and fulfilling experience to go through. Camaraderie and successful collaborations with the division of responsibilities among the committee members lead to a successful event. Organizing an event has added advantages of learning negotiation tactics, provides leadership opportunities and teaches patience and organizational skills (drawing inspiration from Marie Kondo). Having been with the NetworkIN committee for the past two years and having worked with some wonderful people over a number of events, creating some great friendships along the way, has been a memorable experience. I strongly recommend all students and post-docs to consider being a part of this committee for an exhilarating experience, building industry connections, friendships and enjoying a night of science and fun!