Networking events, often known as ‘mixers’, can be one of the best ways for businesses, trade groups, churches, parent teacher associations and just about any group you can think of to help its members to meet and network. . The same is true for conference receptions, parties, or virtually any gathering.

But how effective are such events? How many times have you been at a social gathering and seen small isolated groups or cliques of people who already know each other standing together or sitting passively around a table and effectively excluding anyone else who might want to join the group? Surely that defeats one of the main goals of holding the event or the mixer in the first place? The reason it’s hard for people to mingle at many events is due to ‘structural’ issues, in other words issues related to the location, who is invited and how the event is run.

Why is it so important to mix successfully?

If you’re in business, meeting new leads or people who can refer new clients to you is critically important and directly tied to the success of your business. Mixing events is simply too expensive and time consuming for you to just grab some finger food and talk to friends, colleagues or people you already know. For a company, making the largest number of contacts in the shortest possible time is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

the typical event

The event organizer is relaxing; she’s done her job, or so she thinks she is. She booked the room, arranged transportation, booked entertainment, arranged food, made sure the bar was stocked and hotel staff were available. She now stands near the edge of the room, watching, passing an occasional comment to a colleague or hotel worker. The food looks excellent, the champagne is flowing, the room is beautifully decorated, and no one can fault the practical arrangements. She has done her job, hasn’t she?

Unfortunately, what you will likely see are a few groups of people standing around with people in each group apparently already knowing each other. It’s easy for them to catch up and enjoy a relaxing chat. Particularly since your company is footing the bill for food and drink. These groups are normally positioned as a small circle facing inwards, completely impregnable to anyone who doesn’t know them, each back was like an armadillo shell! If things are left to their natural course, an evening characterized by inward-looking cliques or loose collections of strangers unsure how to connect effectively is likely to be a disappointment for everyone involved. But what can be done to improve this situation?

How organizers can improve their events

Like any good event, it all starts with excellent planning. Making sure you invite the right people to an event is a great start.

Do your invitations right

Personal invitations will always get a better response than an invitation sent by email or postal mail. Segmented Invitations Invitations to functions at churches, chambers of commerce, etc., are invariably extended to all members. In this there is a danger that the same small groups or cliques will be formed each time. A new approach is needed to reinvigorate meetings and attendance.

Personal invitations to specific thematic events, segmenting the potential “invitation base” and attracting a group that will have this theme in common, can be an effective alternative to the general networking event. For example, people could be invited to attend a meeting for those interested in media or industrial products. Members involved in these industries would be invited and a general invitation would be extended to those interested in working with these professionals.

Organizers should also consider limiting the number of people from any specific company or organization. This will not only give a greater impression of exclusivity, but it will also prevent the worst excesses of the company cliques coming together.

Always provide identification cards. Even if you try really hard to remember someone’s name, there is a good chance that in a large meeting that lasts several hours, you will forget someone’s nickname. A badge provides a discreet reminder. Event organizers should produce badges in advance of an event, ideally in large print. If you do not know in advance who will be attending, the organizer should provide enough quality stickers and markers.

“Meet You” Games

The following are some simple games and techniques that can be used to get people to know each other.

the introductory game

Divide the group into pairs, find out the following about the other person:

  • where were you born,
  • an interesting fact about you

  • And what do you do in your spare time?

The next step is for three of the groups of two to come together and each person introduce the other. It’s a bit embarrassing, but you meet a new person.

‘Fast dates

Divide your group into approximately two equally sized groups. Have the groups stand in a line facing each other. Each person has to introduce themselves and what they do in about thirty seconds to a minute (depending on the size of the group). They also exchange business cards. When time is up, the organizer must blow a whistle, ring a bell, or use some other clear way to signal to everyone that time is up. At this point, everyone moves on to the next person in line. The process starts again. People at the end of the lines must “circle” to be at the front of the line. You may need to help them with this. When everyone has met everyone else, the process stops. Be sure to allow time to do this process, although it doesn’t hurt to break things down after a while, even if not all of the meet combinations have been carried out.

If the event organizer can be involved in the process, they should, as it really helps, as it’s not good to appear too “aloof”.

business card bingo

When people first enter the room, make sure they drop their business cards into a hat. Ask them to write an interesting fact on the back of the card. You will also need to make sure that you have an exciting prize to offer as an incentive in this game.

When everyone arrives, attendees have about fifteen minutes to go around the room and collect about 6 business cards each. In doing so, they need to know the name of the person they receive the business card from and a little about your business. At this point in the exercise, everyone should have a combination of 6 different business cards. The caller draws business cards from the hat at the entrance, and the winner of the exercise is the first person to draw all the cards. The caller keeps pulling out business cards until someone has a full house. that is, all business cards. In the event of a draw, the winner will be decided by a series of questions about the people whose business cards are part of the 6 drawn. These questions could be an interesting fact, if they wrote about it on the back or on the card, or just what your company does.

tag people

As people enter, give each of them a small colored tag. Try to distribute them in roughly equal numbers and don’t use too many colors. At an appropriate time, at the beginning of the meeting, ask everyone to try to find all the other people with their color. It’s silly, but it’s fun, and even the shrunkenest violets will be forced to talk as they search the room for their color. This game is generally best used with groups larger than 25. Once the groups are formed, members must find out which businesses they represent and exchange business cards.

Another variation on this is for the event organizer to put the appropriate business groups together in the same color group, rather than randomly placing people in groups. This makes networking more beneficial for group members. For example, the red group could consist of a graphic designer, a printer, a promotional products representative, a direct seller, a journalist, and a representative from a local newspaper. This combination of professions can work together successfully and your conversations should be mutually beneficial. This is in contrast to the typical chamber of commerce meeting that can feel like a children’s game of hide-and-seek. After starting a conversation, which requires boldness and nervousness, it takes a few seconds to realize that the business of a new acquaintance is of no importance to you. More effort is needed to break free of the useless relationship, before another attempt is made to find the perfect business partner who is apparently playing hide-and-seek.

A networking event could be transformed if a method were organized, like the game described, to ensure the meeting of professionals from mutually beneficial categories.

Greet people as they arrive.

A great way to start the mixing process is to have someone stand at the entrance to shake hands and get to know everyone who enters the room. This works best when the person doing the greeting is someone important or high-level to the organization hosting the meeting. It works less well if the person doing the greeting is a young person. In my experience, the least successful way to greet people is to employ some type of professional greeter. I’ve been greeted by clowns and stuntmen and it was just embarrassing. How much more effective if the company’s CEO had been able to stand in the doorway and shake everyone’s hand, instead of talking animatedly to his cronies at the bar.

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