Everywhere Else Tennessee is a startup conference we host here in Memphis. This year featured a robust lineup of speakers, including Chris Lyons of Andreessen Horowitz and Josh Miller of Branch. The event also featured a “Startup Ave” pitch contest, where companies came together in events to pitch their products before moving on to the “finals” of pitch competition.
Hosting a successful event means more than just putting butts in seats. It has a lot to do with how these people interact, and what brought them there to begin with. Here are some ideas to give your event a networking jump-start.
The first thing you should do is hammer out the location where you plan to host your event. Your gut instinct may be to rent a hall for your event, but those with a large office can sell the idea of working for your company by hosting the event from your office. You should also plan for designated “networking spaces” around the venue so people can mingle, and include a limited number of chairs in your floor plan to keep people moving too.
Think about ways you can use location to your advantage, like an after party or a “field trip” to some other relevant location that is close by. Time is also important. Thursday evenings seem to work well, but Wednesday mornings are also sometimes open.
Any good networking event relies on a lot of people and brands coming together to meet at your venue, so sponsorship is crucial. Give your sponsors plenty of booth space to exhibit their products on the floor, and then work on pushing foot traffic toward them. A conference app with a splash page can subtly remind users who is at the event, or you can just schedule demos as part of your conference agenda. The application is a nice bonus because it pushes those notifications to your attendees and tells them where to go.
Speaking of agendas, you should have activities planned for your gathering. Speeches and lectures are helpful, but you don’t want to over schedule these events. This forces your attendees to sit still and listen. Instead, use specific tactics to get people chatting about common interests. Get on the microphone and announce a gathering of a certain industry in the center of your venue, have attendees choose names or numbers from a hat and pair those people together by alphabetical order or industry, or just keep a large space open for guests to exhibit their services.
Promote Your Event
Promotion is the only way to get people to come to your event, so it’s important that you allow yourself plenty of time to get the word out. It’s a good idea to give eight weeks advance notice and send formal invitations to everyone in your contact list. Set up some kind of RSVP list (apps can help here, or you can use a simple email signup form), and then email those attendees reminders as the event draws closer. Designate a social media hash tag ahead of time and make sure that your audience knows what it is. If possible, set up live streaming of your important talks and host it for those who cannot attend your event.
After the event, send a small follow up to the attendees that got the most benefit from your show. Thank you sponsors, give out door prizes to your audience, and provide pictures of the event on your Facebook page. This is also a good time to respond to Twitter messages you may have missed on the event’s hash tag. Record all of these interactions and use it to form a database for your next event by inviting those same people back to your venue.