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Mar 16 2017
Get BIG Turnout at a Small Networking Event
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Originally posted at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/get-big-turnout-small-networking-event-brenda-meller-zawacki-

Recently, a network contact reached out to me to ask for advice on increasing participation at a monthly networking meetup. Often, groups like these are run by volunteers who don’t have a lot of extra time, but want to make the events beneficial for attendees and well attended each month.

Trying to figure out how you can maximize registrations and attendance at a small event? Here are a few tips.  

  1. Have multiple group co-leaders. The group I run was first run by me and one other person. Several years have passed, and now we have four co-leaders. Each of us takes a small role each month, which helps to divvy up the responsibilities and so we have backups in case someone can’t attend a meeting. Plus, each of us has our name in the organization’s meeting notice, which means added visibility for each co-leader (hint: this is FREE marketing). Just ask Antoinette McGarvinStella Woitulewicz, and Laura Rolands (my awesome co-leaders).
     
  2. Hold regular meetings and stay on schedule. The monthly meeting I run is on the second Thursday every month from 8-9 a.m. We vary the actual start time by 5-10 minutes (depending on the weather), but we always end on time. And we meet every month. This creates predictability for attendees who only attend on occasion.
     
  3. Keep a running email list and email everyone once a month with a meeting reminder. I’ve been involved with my networking group for nearly eight years. I maintain an Excel list of email addresses for anyone who has ever attended, registered to attend, or inquired to attend my networking group. I’m up well over 500 names. In each monthly email reminder, I BCC participants (so email addresses aren’t shared) and I always include an “unsubscribe me” option.

    I have attendees who said they have been receiving my email for years and then one day start to attend. If they don’t unsubscribe, don’t unsubscribe them. And I never share email addresses with speakers. Instead, I refer them to the organization’s website or suggest they collect business cards at the event. 
     
  4. Have a sign-in sheet at every meeting. The minimum you need is a blank sheet of paper to record names and email addresses. However, if you have a pre-printed list of registrants, print that instead and ask attendees to initial by their name. In addition to keeping a record of your overall meeting attendance to help predict patterns (average meeting size, largest meeting, smallest meeting), you also can start to track your regular attendees and ambassadors. These make for great people to speak at the group or serve in a meeting leader role when you have turnover.

  5. Book speakers months in advance, and add them to your event calendar and every email reminder. As I’m writing this, it’s March, and I have speakers booked through August. In each monthly email reminder, I promote the list of upcoming speakers. For the speakers, this creates momentum and visibility leading up to the month that they speak. Plus, I note which months are open for speakers, which creates a passive method for me to continually recruit for speakers. Finally, I only book speakers who are members of the organization. If someone reaches out to ask to speak at my group, I suggest they attend one of our meetings first. This gives me the added benefit of increasing my meeting participation and screening out people who only want to speak at the group and aren’t really interested in getting to know our attendees.
     
  6. Make sure your speaker aligns with the group. I always book speakers whose topics are educational or informational in nature. I also make sure it’s a topic that interests me. Selfishly, sometimes I pick the topic that I want to hear about and find a speaker who can present on the topic. With all meeting presenters, avoid a presentation that’s a veiled sales pitch. If your attendees feel they are going to be attending a sales pitch, they will avoid the meeting.

  7. Engage your group into the speaker’s topic. My meeting format starts with 1-minute introductions (name, job title, company, ask) which ends with attendees answering a question related to the speaker’s topic. For example, this past month the topic was “Circle of Trust” and our question was “Describe a few qualities for people you trust.” By the time we got around the room, everyone was engaged in the topic, and we know a bit more about our attendees. This also gives the speaker a running start into the presentation. 

  8. Send a "thank you" email. After your meeting (a few days is ideal; but even a week later is okay), send all attendees a “thank you for attending” email. Make it easy on yourself by forwarding the original email invite along with a brief thank you at the top. Include contact info for the speaker and BCC attendees. This also has the added benefit of promoting your upcoming speakers, if the list was included in your original email. (this is one of the times where being lazy pays off!)

  9. Create a networking group mission and some fun ground rules. For our meeting, my goal is to make it the one networking meeting you look forward to each month. Plus, we have an “apology free” zone, which means you don’t have to apologize if you’re running late or if you have to miss the meeting, or if you have to leave early. It’s a women’s networking group (through Inforum), and we do enough unnecessary apologizing throughout our lives.

  10. Offer a business card exchange. During our introductions, I encourage attendees to pass their business cards around the room. I also remind them to take their unclaimed stacks of cards when they leave.

RESULT: These tips help me to draw in 20 - 30 attendees each month. 

Do you run a networking meeting? If so, reply to this blog and share the name of the group and any tips you would add to this list. 

Seeking networking? Check out the Walsh College Alumni Association or our Student Life pages. ?


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