Networking events offer a relaxed setting for professionals to exchange information and showcase their latest work. As the host, your goal is to make it easy for participants to make the rounds. Every detail matters -- from the venue that you pick to the event's format and marketing. Careful attention to detail is the key to running an event that keeps attendees engaged until it's time for them to leave.
Choose Dates and Venues Carefully
Begin planning eight weeks ahead of an event by creating a short list of dates and sites. Check calendars to avoid conflicts with related events, such as meetings or conferences that could draw your potential audience elsewhere. Evaluate venues for logistical issues such as easy access to parking, capacity and security to minimize or eliminate issues that make it hard for people to attend.
Create a committee to share the workload, especially for larger events. Seek out volunteers for the key positions of chairman, vice chairman, secretary and program director. Once you fill those slots, schedule a meeting to discuss your expectations. Iron out issues such as hiring guest speakers, and assign committee members to handle specific tasks, such as budgeting and publicity.
Determine Your Format
Choose activities that encourage guests to mingle freely and share details about themselves or their professional activities. For example, ask that participants chat with three people they haven't met before or who work in a similar field, according to "Entrepreneur" magazine. Alternatively, invite attendees to bring information about their products and services, then set aside a table to display these items. Also, appoint volunteers who can greet people as they arrive and help them fill out name tags.
Review the Site
Tour the venue weeks before the event. Meet the manager to ensure that he can commit the space to your group. If you're renting the site, discuss any terms that might affect attendance, such as whether you can post signs on-site to direct attendees to the right place. Also, ask how the manager will ease issues that work against easy mingling, such as large numbers of tables and chairs.
Set a Marketing Strategy
Develop a list of people to send emails, brochures or postcards about your event. If you target a specific group, check databases for members living within driving distance. Focus on reaching your most likely attendees first by emailing them a month in advance. Then send an email reminder a week before the event. Keep extra postcards and print materials for passing out among your own contacts, who can help get the word out.