Event Planning 101

Gordon Dymowski is back with another interesting piece this week. He certainly is on a more aggressive path with the meetings he’s been setting up than I have been, although I suspect this is largely due to his more focused job search providing logical opportunities for this sort of thing than my “big tent” communications search. The subject certainly is of interest to me, being a former CMP (Certified Meeting Professional), as there was a point in my career that 90% of my activities were running press conferences, informational seminars, and programs at conventions. Hope you find this useful!

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This is Gordon with another guest post for the blog – I have to admit that, as a job seeker who’s settling into a slightly busy schedule of freelance work, seeking freelance (and full time) work, and fitting in a variety of other activities – so much so that I wonder, at times, how I can keep up my networking efforts when I can’t make events in the event. But of course, the answer – as always – is right in front of me.

But quite frankly, I take to heart the lessons of my non-profit/community organizing past … and create my own scene which freaks me out, man. (A reference, depending on your point of view, to either a Roger Ebert-written movie or a Mike Myers-written franchise). It sounds like a lot more work than it is (but quite honestly, it is a little bit of work), but creating a networking event – and encouraging your friends and colleagues (and the public) to attend can be rewarding. It’s going to have a relatively small payoff at first, but there’s great potential for building relationships (and I’ve found that the more I can “put myself out there” for events and presentations, the more luck I have – after all, putting on a Doctor Who 101 event for Chicago Nerd Social Club has led to an online broadcasting gig, co-organizing Chicago Net Tuesday has lead to a profile on the Netsquared site last year, and I’m hoping that a social media training I’m sponsoring on 10/26 will also lead to further contacts).

The first question I always ask myself when planning an event is …. who is my audience? That will help me determine when to have it (Tuesday and Wednesday evenings seem like prime time for networking events, although I’m gradually becoming fond of breakfast-time networking events and casual coffees), where (usually local, but with a preference for downtown or someplace central), and what venue. (This becomes tricky – I try to find a place that can accommodate a small group – 10 to 15 ideally – but like to keep it open. I also have no problem contacting or talking to a manager to find out if the facility can be used free, or if there is an expectation of food and/or drink purchases. Most of the time, their expectations are reasonable, and for a new and/or struggling venue, having a few more extra customers to provide word of mouth is a definite benefit).

(If you’re looking to put on a training, you might want to consider organizing it through Communiteach, which is a way to “barter” expertise. I happen to know one of the main organizers, and have attended a few sessions myself, including this past summer’s Learnapalooza. My upcoming session is not part of Communiteach, but I’m looking to use it as a way to acquiring paying freelance clients. But I have presented at Learnapalooza, and has allowed me to “repurpose” and update several older presentations in order to engage a different audience and allow me to stay current with thinking in my field).

Of course, now comes the fun part – how do you track RSVPs and keep track of who’s coming and who isn’t? You could simply stick to Facebook’s Events App, which allows you to distribute to all of your Facebook friends…but that’s not exportable. Other online sites like Evite and Eventbrite offer multiple ways of engaging people (and with Eventbrite, you can not only create a unique link for the event, but that – and the invitation itself – can be shared on your social media channels). In addition, good old-fashioned e-mail can be a help in promoting an event. (Plus, it helps you “ping” your professional and social networks, which is always helpful in job seeking). If you’re planning a networking event, you might want to consider using Linked In’s Events app (along with Facebook’s), as well as having it placed on online calendars, like this comprehensive calendar of networking events.

Now, here’s the key question – how many people should you plan for? Even if you’re doing a small, casual get together of pals and fellow networkers/job seekers, you don’t want to plan too big or too small. One good rule of thumb is to look at who you would invite, and divide your expectations by half, but plan for half plus five (So if you would invite 30 possible contacts, expect 15 but plan for 20). It sounds relatively simple, and possibly unrealistic, but it’s always easier to take on a single table than it is to expand into a larger area. And remember – you’re doing this to develop networking contacts, so professional conduct is a must, and I always stick to non-alcoholic beverages when I’m at networking events (it is a judgment call, but for me, I see networking events as a professional activity whether I’m networking or not).

(In terms of charging people, unless I’m working with an organization, I try to make any get-togethers free of charge, and people are responsible for their own food/drinks/etc. Granted, I’m doing smaller, more intimate networking events, but the principle is to focus more on building relationships and less on hitting people up for work. As a job seeker, I like brainstorming and seeing how I can reciprocate in terms of helping; as a freelancer, it helps me keep my foot in the door and allow me to find either more permanent work or further freelance opportunities).

I hope today’s guest post has been helpful, or at the very least, has you thinking. And you are more welcome to share your thoughts and questions – please feel free to leave them in the comments below. You can find links to my various activities through my web site, or you can connect with me via Linked In. (Just avoid using their template note, and drop me a line stating that you found me through Job Stalker). As always, thanks for reading!


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