What's wrong with networking meetings? It’s the same thing that's wrong with most business meetings. Organizers and hosts take things for granted. The welcome mat is definitely not out for anyone but regulars and speakers are there to fill time.
The prevalence of these really makes me hate to go to meetings. The worst offenders are the ones that call themselves "networking" meetings. I wrote A Networker's Guide to Success. I know what networking can and should be.
I recently tallied up how many events and training programs we've hosted and how many clients we've served. It's over 100 (some held annually for 15 years or more) with thousands of attendees. I'm very proud of what people tell us about how we run our meetings. Ready, set, go is our motto. It works because we have a system, an extensive checklist, and I have help from my terrific Client Services Manager, Marsha Vanhorn. She's from Virginia and her Southern hospitality is outstanding.
We're not perfect but here are seven things we do that set our meetings apart and that people appreciate. We do them because I hate attending meetings that don’t. You can do these, too.
- We put out signs EVERYWHERE early: on all the outside entrances with a phone number to call if it's after hours. If it's a recurring meeting, we create reusable signs. Or, we have a "guide" stationed to catch people and direct them. When there are parking problems, you will see one of us directing people in the parking lot or on the sidewalk.
- We have accurate, double-checked sign in sheets and enough staff so no one has to wait long. We also have pre-printed receipts and parking vouchers ready.
- We use pre-printed name tags for everyone, clearly identifying staff, speakers, guests, and clients put out on a table so they're easy to pick up. We also use a "greeter" who introduces people to each other. This person is responsible for getting everyone started talking with someone and how our meeting works. At tables, we have table hosts. The host’s job description (yes, we have job descriptions) is to facilitate everyone talking. No one has to fend for themself.
- During every meeting, EVERYONE ALWAYS gets an opportunity to publicly introduce themself and put out business cards. Some people think it's a waste of time; most are grateful and surprised that we think it's a valuable part of the meeting. We warn people, don't come to our events if you don't want to talk.
- We put signs on any unidentifiable dishes in a buffet. If you're a vegetarian or have food allergies, it's really annoying to have to find someone who can tell you just what that thing is that's in that bowl or on that plate. Why don't caterers do that automatically? We also have food for guests with special needs.
- We send reminders (plural) to guests and regulars that meetings are coming up; we send "thank you” notes, too. We use evaluations to learn what people liked and how we can improve.
- We take special care of speakers. We assign a host to eat with them, answer questions, set up equipment that we've already tested, etc. Our favorite comment is: "you were so organized, all I had to do was show up." We acknowledge their expertise. We include them in all events. We encourage them to come back. We also give them a list of attendees so they can follow-up. We provide it to any attendee as well. We don't consider that a violation of privacy; we call that networking.
Maybe this will inspire you to improve meetings and events when you're in charge.
What bothers you? What inspires you?