When recruiting employees this year, why not throw a party that makes the most of Austin’s networking culture? We turn to Red Velvet Events Founder Cindy Lo, who offers tips on designing networking opportunities that optimize recruiting efforts. Plus Thom Singer, professional speaker and author of the Some Assembly Required series of business networking books, adds insights into how to take full advantage of networking events in order to connect in the right way.
It’s true that networking events are a passive way to recruit job candidates. But that’s the very reason these events can be advantageous, linking recruiting companies to the top industry talent and key players who may not otherwise take notice. No city knows this better than Austin, TX. In fact Austin is such a hotbed for business networkers helping each other, the Austin Business Journal’s Colin Pope recently coined the phenomenon as “plugging into the Austin matrix.”
Plan Your Attack
As one of the top event planners in the city, Cindy Lo has planned numerous corporate events of all shapes and sizes for organizations like Capital Factory and Silicon Labs. Here, she recommends a three-step approach to planning a networking event.
- Define your target audience. Do you know exactly who you want at the event, or are you working with a blind list? Ideally, you should already have a connection with the key people you plan on inviting. But in some cases, like with a start-up, it’s not always possible.
- Select a venue. “The venue affects how the event will play out,” Lo cautions, “so consider both budget and networking objectives when choosing a happy hour versus a more intimate event.” Both Lo and master-networker Thom Singer recommend bringing casual events “home” to the office. “The advantage to hosting these events in your own space is that people feel a connection once they have been in your offices,” explains Singer. “It’s like hosting a party in your home: It creates a more intimate bond.
- Find an irresistible hook. Planning a happy hour for tech types? Bring in a popular industry blogger as a featured guest. Consider what will make this a “can’t miss” event for the target audience. And understand the motivations are different, depending on the audience. “For CEOs, consider planning an intimate dinner party with 10 to 20 like-minded folks,” advises Lo.
Devil Is in the Details
As a veteran of hundreds of networking events himself, Singer has witnessed the good, the bad, and the offensively ugly. He offers four great tips for optimizing recruiting efforts, ensuring your event wasn’t held in vain.
- Educate your entire staff on how to host an event. “Many people show up at business events where the hosts are nowhere to be seen for a long time,” Singer explains. “The staff must understand that the event is not designed for your team to hang together and not talk to the guests.” For intimate VIP affairs, Singer strongly recommends making sure there are people specifically delegated to the task of making introductions. “Just because someone is C-level does not mean they are good at networking.”
- Always have nametags. If you plan on forgoing nametags in an effort to force the networking event into a more social experience, don’t expect to impress networking veterans like Singer. “It is a business event. The nametag is a tool that allows you to start a conversation,” he says, while offering tips to make the most of it. “Use a font large enough so that people can read the name, AND company affiliation. It allows people to approach anyone and easily start chatting.”
- Capture the email addresses of everyone who attends. How else will hosting a party truly improve your recruiting efforts? Pre-event registration online is a great idea, but Singer points out a critical mistake many event hosts make: Not capturing the emails of those who simply show up. “The purpose is to track who attends—and those who RSVP and do not attend—so that you can properly follow up with everyone after the event it over.”
- Keep announcements at bay. Do not stop the networking to make announcements or welcome everyone. “If there is a great buzz going at the event, the clinking of glasses to let your CEO pontificate can kill the mood,” Singer warns. “Usually after such self-serving back patting, many people will leave.”
In your opinion, what are Austin’s best business networking events? Has holding or attending a networking event led to recruiting gold? Share your stories with us!
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