Net-work-ing [net-wur-king] noun: A cringe-inducing activity designed to make individuals down glasses of (insert chosen alcohol here) in order to become socially-functioning adults among a group of strangers with some sort of common interest.
Or is that just me?
Correction: that used to be me when I went to Y’s happy hour or Z’s meet-up because I needed to meet new people and attempt to advance my career, when all I really wanted to do was go home, make dinner, and plop on the couch to watch a rerun of Real Housewives. Those were the Tuesday nights I lived for, not the ones standing awkwardly near the bar trying to make eye contact with the girl whose handbag I liked (maybe we’ll be friends!), while rooting around my own bag and finding business cards to thrust upon whoever I just had a one minute conversation with.
It’s not called networking for nothing.
But it wasn’t until I went to my umpteenth mixer that I realized networking shouldn’t have to be this uncomfortable or stressful. Instead, I could host my own event with friends and acquaintances I knew would benefit from meeting each other, while forming deeper relationships with them myself.
So no more lost girl in the corner passively sipping Riesling, and constantly checking her phone at another person’s happy hour. Here are three steps to hosting your own successful networking event.
1. Organize your guest list.
Who are you inviting? Is it a group of college alumni you found on LinkedIn who live in the same city? A professional organization or business group you’re part of that could use a meet-up? Or a group of young professionals at your company who work in different departments? You’re not throwing a house party, so all guests should have some commonality besides you to encourage conversation and easy networking on their part.
2. Choose a location.
First, determine if your event will be a happy hour, a brunch or lunch, or an activity. Happy hours are better for bigger groups (10 or more), while meals and activities would be better suited for smaller gatherings. Next, try to select the most central location for everyone. No one is going to drive or take public transportation an hour out of their way regardless if it’s a Tuesday evening or a Saturday afternoon. Make sure to book your venue at least one month in advance, and re-confirm a week before the event. For happy hours and meals, choose a bar or restaurant that has ample space to accommodate the size of your party without having to pay for a private room.
3. Spread the word.
Text or email? Facebook message or LinkedIn message? Eventbrite? The mode of communication doesn’t matter as much as the personalization of your invitation. A more efficient way to garner RSVP’s is taking the time to send each guest a personal invite at least two weeks before the event. This way you can already get a conversation going, re-connect if needed, and answer any questions they may have. Two days before the event, send your guests a reminder. If you’re coordinating a larger happy hour, I recommend using Eventbrite for keeping track of RSVP’s.
Above all, enjoy yourself, and let your guests know that they are free to do so themselves.