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.
These meetings leave the impression that…
- Everyone who should know everyone already does.
- It’s obvious how our meeting works and if you don’t get it, too bad.
- People with different tastes just shouldn’t eat with us.
- If you can’t find us, not our problem.
- We’re glad you came, but we don’t really care if you had a good time or come back.
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’ve been to some doozies lately. At a meeting of a large, well-established international networking group, I was told rather loudly and publicly not to come back because they already had a member who did what I did. Fine with me. I wasn’t planning to anyway because of how they treated people who were not part of the “in” crowd.
Our company, the Business Success Center, is applying for a grant from Chase Bank and Living Social. We want to use it to create an online version of our Owners MBA™ training program for existing businesses with special sections for veterans, urban and rural businesses, and people with disabilities.
In the course of completing the application, I 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 us apart and people comment on.
- 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. There are no parking problems at our office building but we also make special efforts when the locales are not as “parking friendly”. You may 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. Their job description (yes, we have job descriptions) is to facilitate everyone talking. No one has to fend for themselves.
- During every meeting, EVERYONE ALWAYS gets an opportunity to publicly introduce themselves 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 what’s in that dish or on that platter. We don’t want to put any guest in that position. 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 yous”, 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 always give them a certificate acknowledging their expertise. We encourage them to come back when they are not the speaker. If it’s a longer event or conference, we include them in those events. We also give them a list of attendees so they can followup. We provide it to any attendee as well. We don’t consider that a violation of privacy; we call that networking.
I’ve been “gritching” about the problems with most meetings for a long time. It feels good to let it out. Maybe this will inspire you to improve meetings and events where you’re in charge.
What bothers you? What inspires you?