While virtual groups and meet-up apps are a popular way to network with people, there’s nothing quite like good old fashioned face-to-face interaction when it comes to connecting with others professionally. One of the best ways to meet like-minded individuals in your industry is to plan a networking event - and the team at SquareMeal have the tools to show you how.
One of the great things about networking events is they tend to provide a relaxed and friendly space to connect with people rather than, say, a formal conference or business lunch. Being the host, you get to control the guest list to ensure that the relevant people are talking to each other, and they’re usually totally optional, so you know that whoever turns up has chosen to attend rather than being dragged along on a work trip.
The tricky bit is knowing where to start. If you’ve never hosted a large-scale gathering before and aren’t sure how to plan your first networking event, then listen up. Bringing people together in a space is half the battle, but getting them to create meaningful conversation and connections is something else altogether. It’s all in the detail and there are a few simple things to think about if you want your event to go down in history (or at least go really well). Let’s be clear – this list is in no way exhaustive, but should help provide the foundations for planning an event, along with plenty of venue recommendations to boot.
From choosing the best possible venue to how to interact with your guests when you get there, and not forgetting that all-important follow-up email, we’ve highlighted some of the key things to think about when organising a successful networking event. Have a scroll to find out how to plan a networking event, and don’t forget to take a look further down for some of our top venues for hosting.
1) Be specific
Before you get carried away with the logistics, it's important to clarify exactly what it is you want to achieve from your networking event. What TYPE of networking event is it? You want to give people a reason to attend and if the focus is too broad, there won't be an incentive to join. No one wants to end up with a bunch of declined invites. Try not to only focus on what you want to achieve from the event (although that’s important). Think about what others might be looking for from a professional meet-up, too.
Is it an opportunity to earn contacts? Or pick up on key industry knowledge? Is the event primarily a social activity with the aim of building relationships? Once you’ve got the answers, lead with them in your invite. Tell people why they should join and what they’ll get out of it.
2) Size matters
Ok, now we can talk logistics. Once you’ve sorted out the objectives of the event – tick – the next step is to decide how many people to invite. What sort of scale are we talking? Too small and there won’t be enough variation in expertise or opportunities for people to exchange notes (or email addresses). Too big and it's impossible to talk to everyone.
The type of event will dictate how many people to host – and in turn influence the venue you go for (see next tip). We recommend going smaller, rather than too big, as this will help ensure the event remains focused and more manageable.
3) Choose a venue
Think of the venue for your networking event as the support structure that holds everything together. Choosing the right space for your meeting will influence how people are able to interact with each other, dictate the overall ambience of the occasion and encourage conversation. Sure, you can do the leg work yourself with some extensive Googling, but there are lots of useful tools out there that will help you narrow it down.
Check out SquareMeal’s free venue-finding concierge service to reach out to places with your budget, number of guests, event type and any specific information. And don't forget to think about the below while you’re doing your research:
This might seem like an obvious one, but make sure you book a private space for your event. You don’t want to be distracted by another gathering happening on the other side of the room, or to annoy people with your event either.
To sit or to stand?
It’s helpful to provide seating, but ensuring there’s plenty of space for people to stand will encourage people to walk around and mingle. Make sure there’s a fair mix of both and it doesn’t feel too cramped. It can be useful to looks for venues that offer quieter ‘breakout’ spaces, or even a garden or terrace, so that people can chat more freely and with privacy.
Get the vibe right
Depending on your industry and reason for hosting, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all venue for networking events. If it’s a more corporate affair you’re after, then a simple conference room with presentation equipment is probably your best bet. But if you're looking to network with influencers, for example, then a more relaxed space with music, food and drink might work better.
People are bound to get thirsty after all that talking. Enquire with the supplier whether it's able to provide refreshments with the space as you may need to source these yourself. A few snacks make a nice touch, too, although try to keep them bite-sized to avoid any awkward moments!
Make sure to introduce yourself as the host to everyone when they arrive, so you’re at the forefront of people’s minds – this is a networking event after all and you need to promote yourself. Once you’ve done all the intros, it’s ok to take a step back. You’ve done your bit and it’s time to let everyone else take the floor.
4) Get tech savvy
Living in a post-covid world means that virtual ways of communicating with one another have become the norm. It’s likely that many people might not feel comfortable attending an event with lots of people, or require certain technical practicalities to take part. To make your event as accessible as possible, consider hosting a hybrid event that’s partly virtual, partly in-person. Some other basic checkboxes include free wifi, air-con and good lighting. A microphone and speakers could be a useful touch if you need to get everyone's attention.
5) Name tags, ice breakers, gift bags and a speech?
None of the above are mandatory, but doing one or all of them could help make it easier for people to interact, especially if this is someone’s first networking event. As much as the day is about making professional connections, you want it to be fun as well. Goodie bags or a competition could help entice people to attend, while making a small speech will provide a bit of context to the event – plus, it’s polite to thank everyone for attending.
Important note: while they might have a place at certain events, keep presentations, speeches or activities brief, to allow plenty of time for people to chat.
6) Follow up
Your event was a roaring success – congratulations! But don’t let it end with a hand shake. Make sure to send a follow-up email to everyone who attended thanking them for coming, to circulate important info from the event and to invite them to ask any questions. It’s also a useful opportunity to ask for feedback from attendees, so you can get a better idea of how it went and learn for next time (if you're planning on hosting another one).
6 top venues for hosting a networking event in London
What: With views of the River Thames and St Paul's Cathedral, Sea Containers on the South Bank offers multiple event rooms for various-sized groups and occasions. The Sunset Room would work well for more chilled gatherings, featuring a bar and colourful lighting, while the sleek interiors of the Cucumber room are as cool as they sound.
Where: 18 Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9RQ
What: The View offers two main spaces for events: The Library and the eponymously-named View room. We like this venue because both rooms offer something a little bit different, the former being much more traditional and character-lead while the latter is modern and bright. The View also comes equipped with a wide screen and podium, as well as repeater screens along the walls.
Where: 38-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, WC2A 3PE
Shoreditch Town Hall
What: There's no shortage of event spaces to choose from at Shoreditch Town Hall, a stunning Grade II-listed building in the heart of East London. This venue certainly isn't a low-key affair though, with some rooms boasting glittering chandeliers, high ceilings and a capacity of up to 750. Book this venue if you want to make a lasting impression on guests.
Where: 380 Old Street, Shoreditch, London, EC1V 9LT
What: If it’s a fully-functional space with built-in breakout spaces, state-of-the-art kit and landscape gardens you're after, then Roehampton Venues is a great choice. We recommend the Lime Tree Suite on the top floor, which offers scenic views of the city and holds up to 100 people.
Where: Roehampton Lane, Putney, SW15 5PH
The Barbican Conference Centre
What: Your event is sure to be a memorable one at The Barbican Conference Centre. Known for its theatre, cinema and art and design spaces, it also offers a number of rooms for hire. Its two foyers are great for conventions and large-scale events, while the Frobisher Rooms are a versatile suite of rooms that host between 10 and 170 people.
Where: Silk Street, Barbican, EC2Y 8DS
Need a little more help? Check out our guide on how to pick the right venue for your event