I went to a networking event in London last night hosted by Lemon Studios and e-consultancy– the Lemon Studios Summer Party. It was a good, well organised event where I enjoyed mingling with a bunch of people in the new media industry. The event was held in the Larder restaurant in Clerkenwell to promote Lemon Studios who are based on Clerkenwell Road, in the old building I used to work when I was at Wheel (now LBi).
As an inexperienced networker and someone who is guilty of being quite introverted at times, the idea of going to an event with hundreds of people there and approaching complete strangers is more than a little scary. So I was quite aware of the experience I had last night and a couple of things struck me on the way home which I think future networking events could improve on to give their attendees a better experience.
Help people connect with specific attendees – Lemon studios published the guest list before the event last night which I thought was a great way to see the kind of people who were going to be there. What I would have loved is a way to tag a couple of names with a note to say I’d like to talk to them. A board of some such or a notification system where when I had finished a conversation with someone I could go to the board, check my phone or something and see if anyone wanted to talk to me. If they were free also, I could meet them to chat.I’m not sure how this would work in a practical sense, but it struck me that identifying people I wanted to talk to would be a really great way to get the best of a networking event. As it was I went through the whole night not meeting anyone from the organisations I was hoping to talk to. Of course some people may attract more interest than others so may not like this idea so much, but as long as the system supported optional contact it could work well.
Backup business card printing on the spot – This one might be a bit ‘out there’, but I was surprised with the number of people I spoke to who didn’t have a business card with them. I was thinking that maybe if an event provided the facility for people to run off a small batch of plain cards with their contact details on them it would allow them to network with a bit more confidence and efficiency.
Consider a venue with good air con – half way through my second conversation I broke into a sweat. Initially I thought nerves were getting the better of me, but looking around I noticed I wasn’t alone. Its always difficult to keep a room cool with lots of people in it, but this is an important factor when people are in a setting where they need to talk and some could be nervous. Comfort is really important to avoid distractions or self consciousness over growing sweat patches.
Provide cloakroom facilities where possible – although they had a small cupboard to put coats and bags in last night, it wasn’t really supportive of a safe environment to place belongings for people turning up after work with coats, brollies and laptop bags. Instead I saw some people struggling with their bags on their shoulders with their coats thrown over tables. A comfortable environment where valuables are safely placed out of the way will support a more smooth networking experience and allow people to move around the room away from the their things.
The key thing I took away from my first proper networking event was that everyone was in the same boat. A lot of people were as nervous as I was to begin with, and most of us shared the same common goal – to expand our network of contacts. If event organisers focus in on those goals and work out what they can do to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to reach their goals, they will find that they create a networking experience that people come back to again and again.