It should go without saying that all business Networking events - including Speed Networking - should, at the very minimum, feel safe, comfortable and inclusive for everyone as we all start to go out now.
At least that’s the theory.
Yet earlier last week, I met up with a female professional acquaintance (we’ll call her “Julia”) and we got talking about the many different networking events and formats available to professionals of all genders and seniority in and around Birmingham and York...and online too.
They are many, varied and, more often than not, absolutely buzzing; they are almost certainly diverse (Birmingham is a Super-Diverse City) and the very vast majority of them are well run and attended. Importantly, they can also be highly productive and great fun too!
At least, all this was true pre-pandemic.
One event Julia told me about, though, really made her (and me too actually) feel really uncomfortable and she recounted this story to me:
The event was scheduled for a Thursday lunchtime, which worked well as she had a whole day of appointments in central Brum that day.
Upon arriving at the venue, they were led down an almost vertical flight of stairs, to a room which was quite dimly lit and drinks were served.
It was then that Julia realised that there were probably around 30 men in attendance but only 5 or so women; 2 of whom were surrounded by 5 men, who I‘m sure were just trying to be friendly and polite.
Nonetheless, it felt uncomfortable for Julia. So much so that she departed as soon as she could, not even staying for lunch.
No wonder there are a number of events springing up aimed specifically at women
In short, she said it felt more like a dating experience, not lunchtime networking for city professionals.
Given that everyone else had given up their lunchtimes to attend, the organisers really should have put more thought into ensuring the appropriate environmental conditions were in place to create a safe and comfortable space to network, discuss and debate the issues of the day.
Women - or anyone for that matter - should ever feel vulnerable in networking situations.
I contrast that experience with the excellent events I used to attend before the coronavirus struck. For example, Cereal Networking - hosted by Gurdas Singh and Omar Rashid - and also Breakfast Briefing events hosted by IOD West Midlands. (I should say at this point that other Networking events are available).
In summary, both of these other events provided what I like to call Networking Brilliant Basics.
Networking Events Should Provide the Following as a Minimum:
Is it COVID-secure? The venue should be able to tell you what additional measures they’ve taken to ensure everyone’s safety when inside their venue. ideally, you should also have to scan in and out of the venue so that you can be contacted if necessary after the event.
Is it People-Friendly? Will the location's environmentals encourage delegates to mingle, or will they be a detractor? Lighting is incredibly important In order to create positive vibes - after all, we’re networking, not clubbing or dating!
Is there a Sponsor? Networking events can offer great sponsorship opportunities. And, if you do sponsor the event, you’ll likely have branding opportunities and possibly even a speaker-slot too. Make sure you wring every possible ounce of value from your investment opportunity.
Impact on Your Working Day? Make sure the event doesn’t impact too heavily on your working day. Networking is a key part of my Go to Market Strategy, so I prioritise key networking events first and then base work appointments around that time and location. It works for me.
Is the Event Inclusive? Is the event scheduled for a time suitable for single parents or after standard school-run times?
Location - is the event easy to get to, is it engaging to be in and does it have "networkability"? Also, is there parking nearby?
Audience / Delegates - Is the event intended especially for particular business sectors or company size e.g. Financial or Manufacturing professionals or SMEs/micro-businesses?
Speakers - If there is a Speaker at the event, are they a known quantity (to you) and are they going to offer something of value to you?
Have I missed anything?
Your help please! I'd love it if you could comment on what you see as the essential ingredients YOU want to see at networking events as the economy starts to open up after this pandemic.
Next week, I’ll be giving my Top Tips for maximising opportunities from networking.