casual networking
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There are two kinds of networking events. There are silver platter occasions where someone serves up a networking opportunity; you just have to show up. Then there are ones that you are hosting—a customer appreciation evening, the launch of a new product or a celebration of a company milestone.

After successfully finding the right room, having excellent food and drink, and managing the guest list, there are a number of small things that can trip up a smooth-running event. One cringe-worthy example is when the host gets up to say a few words, only to have the crowd at the back of the room continue talking. Or those employees who didn’t get the memo that a customer appreciation evening isn’t an opportunity to simply socialize with the people they work with every day. Here are seven strategies to make your event memorable and glitch-free:

1. Know that you are all hosts

All employee invitees should know that job one is to act like a host. It’s worth organizing a 15-minute huddle beforehand to summarize what is expected of all team members. For example, stay for the whole event, have business cards, circulate, rescue wallflowers, and be a connector. The CEO and senior management should lead by example.  

2. Circulate a guest list

A few days prior to the event, let employees know who is attending. This gives them an opportunity to Google the guests’ names in advance, see their photos and learn about the people attending. This helpful backgrounder can be a conversation catalyst.

3. Be like Walmart—have a team of greeters

Having a welcoming party just inside the entrance to the room is a good idea, but there’s no reason that the CEO has to be the only person greeting the guests. People arrive throughout the event, so other members of the C-suite can take turns welcoming guests at the door. This frees up the CEO to circulate.

4. Don’t rely on venue AV people

These folks get busy; they may end up dealing with other audio-visual issues elsewhere in the hotel. If possible, have a dedicated AV person, and always do a sound check. But even if you’ve hired professionals, you need someone on your team managing these last-minute details.

5. Enlist team members for noise control

One of the most awkward moments at any event is when a speaker gets up to give his or her remarks but doesn’t have 100 percent of the crowd’s attention. It is embarrassing for the speaker to have to struggle to be heard. That’s why it’s important to always have team members stationed around the room, with a glass in hand and a piece of cutlery to tap against the glass to get everyone’s attention. This Pavlovian approach works. It’s one of the miracles of crowd control.

6. Keep the speeches short

Guests are standing at these events, so it’s not the time for a long-winded presentation. Talk for no more than five minutes and then let people get back to networking.

7. Don’t make them eat cereal

Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, but the quality of the food, as well as the quantity, says a lot about how you value your guests. Who hasn’t been to an event where they served lacklustre cheese and fruit plates? When you leave, you’re still hungry. Your last memory of the evening is that bowl of cereal you eat when you finally get home. Be as generous as your budget allows, and try to be creative so people talk about the food—in a good way!

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac are three of Canada’s top networking experts. They are principals of Shepa Learning Company and are keynote speakers and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Penguin/Prentice Hall). The trio teach the skills of networking and communication to corporate clients, universities and business associations. Sign up for their free weekly networking tipit’s always under 200 words.