Networking Event Ideas: How to Plan an Event That Will Wow

So, you’re researching networking event ideas. That’s great! Networking is incredibly important in today’s business world. When you think about it, life, in general, is all about the relationships you have and the circle you hold—both personally and professionally. And experts agree that the most well-connected people also tend to be the most successful.

But not all networking events are equal in effectiveness. And that’s probably why you’re here; you’re searching for creative ways to connect your attendees. After all, the most memorable (and effective) events tend to go above and beyond.

The good news is you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help you plan a great event and we have lots of helpful tips + tricks to offer you along the way.

Let’s dive in!

Steps to planning a great networking event:

Understanding your audience:

The first step in offering exceptional networking opportunities for your attendees is to really understand your audience.

  • What industry/industries do they work in?
  • What types of relationships do they want to build? What are their expectations?
  • Are they an outgoing group or are they more introverted?
  • What networking events have you done in the past and how were they received?

Getting a grasp on the types of people you expect to attend can help you better determine what they’re hoping to take away from the event, which is the next step in the process.

Determining their goals:

Ask yourself why these people will be attending your event. Ultimately, understanding their goals will help you know what you need to do to produce a successful event. Here are some of the top reasons people attend networking events:

  • Build industry partnerships
  • Meet prospective mentors
  • Get a feel for the job market
  • Stay on top of trends
  • Bring on new clients or sales leads

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to networking. But determining their top goals can help you decide on an event format.

Deciding on an event format:

Your event format can make or break the networking experience. And there’s a lot to consider. For some people, networking isn’t easy. At times, it can be awkward or, depending on your personality, downright draining.

That’s where event format comes in. Ultimately, there are two different types of networking: structured and unstructured. And there are pros and cons to both.

Here are how they both break down and examples of event formats for each.

Structured networking event ideas:

Structured networking events often solve some of the most common complaints we hear about networking: that attendees don’t meet enough new people, that they have trouble branching out from the people they already know, and that they get stuck talking to the wrong people.

Here are some structured networking event ideas:

Speed networking:

Speed networking is currently one of the fastest growing forms of networking in the world. Its fast-paced nature ensures your attendees are making the most of their time and meeting as many new people as possible.

And it’s generally well-received among attendees—and for good reason. They don’t have to gather up the courage to approach strangers. They won’t get stuck talking to someone they have nothing in common with. And they’re sure to make more connections than traditional networking events.

But, that’s not all. In addition to increasing the quantity of new connections, speed networking can also increase the quality of new connections. Here’s how.

Instead of having your attendees rotate one seat to the right (or left), connect them strategically instead of randomly with matching software. Matching software allows your attendees to pre-select the types of people they’re interested in meeting with based on customizable categories specific to your audience.

It’s quite literally personalized matchmaking for professionals. We can’t think of a better way to connect the right people.

Round tables:

Round tables might seem like a stuffy, outdated networking format, but hear us out. With a little bit of thought and some strategic seating assignments, round tables can be an incredibly effective way to connect people.

While speed networking focuses on one-on-one interactions, round tables are a great way to bring groups of people to together, which has many benefits in and of itself. For starters, many people feel more at ease knowing there isn’t as much pressure on them personally to carry a conversation. Instead, it’s more of a group discussion that offers opportunities to problem solve, brainstorm, team-build, and collaborate.

Similar to speed networking, round tables can be much more effective if you strategically bring groups of people together. But don’t worry – this doesn’t require a ton of time (or effort) on your end. Simply use round table technology to create strategic seating assignments at the touch of a button. It’s really that easy.

At the event, it’s always a good idea to have a moderator. Pick a few topics for the tables to discuss and give ample time for each discussion and then move on to the next topic. This type of round table isn’t just great for networking – it can also be used to improve luncheons, dinners, and various other team building activities.

Unstructured networking event ideas:

Targeted connections:

Event planning is an exceptionally fast-paced profession—and the 5th most stressful job in America according to Forbes magazine. We get that you don’t always have time to plan a standalone session, especially if you’re a conference planner. That doesn’t mean networking should be ignored altogether. There are still solutions to help effectively connect your attendees, one of which is targeted connections.

Targeted connections use event technology to provide your attendees with a customized list of people they should reach out to, based on their individual interests. They’re able to network on their own time, in whatever format they feel comfortable in. Some prefer to grab a coffee, while others want to get to know one another over a meal. It’s all up to them. But no matter how they chose to connect, targeted connections ensure people with similar interests are brought together.

Mix and mingle cocktail events:

Mix and mingle cocktail events are what a lot of people think of when they hear the word networking. It’s a pretty popular networking format and is often the opener for conferences and tradeshows.

Mix and mingle events offer a laid-back, low-stress setting for people to network. They’re relatively easy to plan and don’t require a ton of work on the event planners part. Some people feel a sense of security at these types of events knowing they can lean on and stick with the people they came with. While that might be a pro for some people, it also brings about some cons, especially with respect to networking effectiveness.

Mix and mingle events are intimidating for a lot of people. It takes courage to approach people and pushes even the most extroverted among us out of their comfort zone. Not to mention, there’s no way to know who to approach. The only information you have about fellow attendees is what’s written on their nametag.

As we mentioned earlier, most people attend networking events with a specific goal in mind. But with mix and mingle events its essentially a free-for-all. There’s no way to ensure the right people are meeting. And if your attendees walk away without any meaningful new connections, they’re much less likely to keep coming back.

Coffee breaks:

Coffee breaks are another popular conference networking session format. They can offer a much-needed break from speakers, educational sessions, and presentations. Similar to mix and mingle events, they’re usually pretty low-key and laid-back. And there’s definitely something to be said about connecting over coffee.

The nice thing about coffee breaks is that they offer a lot of flexibility. You can sit and chat if you meet someone you have a lot in common with or you can stay standing and keep moving.

Again, it’s tough to ensure the right people come in contact with each other, but still, coffee breaks are a great addition to any conference or event, especially if paired with a structured networking session.

In conclusion:

When it comes down to it, there are a lot of options when it comes to networking events. There’s no one right answer. It all depends on your audience, what they’re hoping to take away from the event, and what format they’ll make the most meaningful connections in.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the events industry, and networking events specifically, and we’ve generally found that structured networking events tend to be the most effective.

If you’re still struggling with networking events ideas, we’d love to chat and point you in the right direction. We’ve worked with event planners from all types of organizations—from Fortune 500 companies to local chambers of commerce and everything in between—and at the end of the day, it’s all about connecting the right people.

Thanks to the technological advancements happening every day around us, there are tools out there that can make planning a successful session so much easier. If you’re interested in learning more, let’s chat. We offer free consultations and have 25+ years of experience in the networking world.