When you’re the convener of a group, the spotlight is on you. If you do it well and add value to those in attendance, your influence increases. And when your influence increases, you can achieve your goals more effortlessly.
If you’ve attended a lot of networking events, conferences, dinners, and happy hours and they have started to feel mundane or exhausting, or if you feel as if you want to change it up and pick who will be in the room, you may want to start hosting events.
More so, if you want to strengthen your network, deepen your relationships, and provide immense values to others, consider hosting events.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be scary, logistics-heavy, or elaborate. An event can be actualized in a lot of ways, so you choose what feels authentic to you and fitting for your goals in creating one.
I’ve always been someone who likes to bring people together. I get a lot of joy from creating environments where people have fun, connect, and grow. For me, events look like a range of experiences from theme parties, to dinners, happy hours, scavenger hunts, group travel, or 600- person gatherings.
Some are planned out over the course of months, with budgets, tickets, and a team. Others are more spur-of-the-moment invites to gather people in a no-frills ways. What matters most is that I’m thoughtful about why I’m bringing people together, am intentional about whom I invite, and translate that clearly to the group.
I spoke with experts who host a diverse range of events regularly to share tips with you on what to consider if you want to start bringing people together. Personally, I’ve had a lot of experience building a 30,000 person community, designing alumni engagement strategies for high schools and universities, and attending more events, dinners, conferences, and retreats than the average ambivert. I’ve coupled all of these viewpoints to synthesize the most important foundational elements to consider when you organize events.
1. Before your event:
The depth of your pre-planning will vary depending on the intricacy of the event you’re creating. If you want to dip your toe into the planning water, it’s easy to hand-select a group, call a local venue, share with them that you’d like some private space for an influential group (or host at your home or office), and make a private Facebook event or email invitation.
As David Denberg of Summit explains, “Look at each event as an opportunity to add value to the life experience of your attendees.”
Get your mind right
Christine Lai of Baller Dinner shares that it’s important to remember the gift that it is to be in this connector role. She says, “As humans, we inherently crave belonging, community, and connectedness. Creating space to foster these things is a gift. People like to be included and invited to gatherings and bringing people together often accelerates and increases serendipity so we can do more, and go farther, together. ”
Select people with no overlapping connections and set the ground rules
Every event I host is different. Some come with secret invitations where no one knows who else will be there, and when they show up, they’re surprised to see others they love but haven’t seen in some time. Some are all strangers, and others are a mix.
In speaking with Khe Hy, an artful connector, he pointed out why he prefers to invite a group of people who don’t know one another. He says, “Try to find a group of people with zero overlapping LinkedIn connections. Once you have everyone together, prohibit anyone from asking ‘what do you do’ for the first hour. Consider some very open-ended questions to spur conversation.” Here are some great questions Khe shares to facilitate your gathering.
When I have larger events that require name tags, in order to help break from the overly-used, “What do you do” question, I suggest a question of the night which attendees answer on their name tag (which are the nice clip or magnet ones, not the sticker ones which fall off and stick to long hair–these small details matter). Something like, ‘What was the first concert you attended?’ or ‘What are you reading currently?’ help to establish kinship with someone and kickstart a conversation about who they are, not just what they do. The atmosphere of your gathering will dictate the nature of the question and its depth.
Define success beforehand
Why are you doing this, and what will success look like for you and your guests? I tend to define success as helping others to find or deepen the connection. This can be friendship and/or business. But I rarely lead with business, as I want to create space where people are known as whole people, not pigeon-holed by an industry or title.
Tallia Deljou from Mavenly + Co. suggests, “Set your intention from the beginning. This will help you decide whom to invite, what kind of gathering to plan, how to best connect your guests, and why it’s worth it (for you and them).” There’s little worse than spending time to organize something with one goal in mind, but your guests don’t understand that and everyone walks away frustrated.
Depending on the type of gathering you create and the cost involved, you may choose to charge guests for attending. If it’s a casual small group getting drinks, that’s easy to invite people and let everyone handle their own bill. Same for a small group meal. Once you get into bigger events that have overhead to produce them, using a service like EventBrite to handle ticketing and payments is quick and simple for both you and your guests. Regardless of what you choose, make it clear in your invitiation if there is an upfront cost required with their RSVP, how much, and what is covers. If it’s cash bar, a group going dutch, or donation suggested, also make that clear.
Invite ‘like-hearted’ people
No matter how ‘perfect’ your logistical planning is, how many swag bags you have, how delicious the meal, or how unique the venue, “The number one rule in gathering people is to create an experience based on similar positive energy. Investing in other like-hearted people will prove to yield long-lasting relationships, not just in-the-moment transactions,” shares Chris Schembra of 7:47 Club.
Put intention and thought into the guest list. It’s like cooking: the fewer ingredients there are, the more critical each one is to the overall flavor of the dish. Make sure each ingredient (person) adds something to the mix.
Send the right amount of communication
Your event will be on your mind much more than it will be on the mind of your guests. For that reason, you’ll want to be sure you have consistent and clear communication with them. I tend to go with once a week until the event, at which point you send one reminder the day before.
In that email or post to your Facebook event wall or Punchbowl invite, you’ll reiterate when and where (with link and address) the event is being held, as well as any other details like parking instructions, dress code, if they should be bringing anything, or any prep they should do or know before arriving.
Once your event is live, there are a few things you’ll want to do: first and foremost, have fun! Your guests will be taking your lead, so set the tone by being in a great mood and enjoying the event yourself.
If you let any of the logistics stress you out, your guests will feel it. The Disney Company is known for creating magical experiences for its guests, and one of the reasons is that most of their operations occur underground in their tunnel system. Let the stresses go, or if you’re unable, keep them below the surface.
Stand out and connect the dots
Once guests arrive, make it easy for them to identify you (especially if it’s a larger group you’ve convened). Let them know specifically how and where to find you (directions, what you’ll be wearing, under whose name the reservation will be, etc).
Then, make them feel welcome. If it’s a small group, you should greet each person and introduce them to the others. If it’s a larger group and you can’t be at the door, assign or hire someone (or multiple people) to be hosts or those available for check-in.
For larger events, Chris Adamo of WhereBy.Us suggests, “Go out and be everyone’s dot-connector. It’s fun and has a ton of indirect benefits. Also, wear something bright that will help you be recognizable to new faces!”
Read the room
Do you know the expression “we plan and God laughs”? That is certainly relevant in the world of event planning. No matter what you have in mind, you’ll want to be flexible and read the mood of the room.
Morgan Brady of Young Entrepreneur Council explains, “Be adaptable and make game-time decisions based on the vibe of the room. You might have had a facilitated conversation planned but sometimes the energy is great and guests are connecting deeply on their own. In that case, don’t cut the music and kill the mood. Instead, switch things up towards the end of the event by asking all the extroverts to raise their hands and switch seats so everyone gets to meet some new people without being forced into a rigid discussion.”
Make thoughtful introductions
One of my favorite things to do when I gather people is to be a matchmaker (not typically of the dating variety). You know everyone whom you invited, so be intentional about taking that knowledge and using it to facilitate great connections.
David Homan of Orchestrated Connecting adds, “Gather a diverse group of people with at least three different areas of interest, and then, in advance of the gathering, either introduce or mention parallels between some of those people.” Doing this helps short-cut conversations for your attendees to allow them to go more deeply with one another more quickly.
3. After your event:
After your get-together has concluded, it’s not over. It’s important to follow up.
Be sure to thank your guests both as they’re physically departing, as well as in an email the following day. This is a great place to add any pertinent follow-up like links to resources that were discussed, or when another gathering will be (if there is one).
It’s great to echo again what the initial goal of the event was, so it’s clear as a bookend. For example, “My aim was for each of you to come and connect on a deeper level within this curated group, without leaning on the crutch of talking about someone’s work.”
Facilitate the attendees’ ability to connect with one another
If you want to help the group to connect with one another afterward, consider methods by which to facilitate that. If it’s a small gathering, asking each person at the end of the event if they’re comfortable with you sharing their contact info, and then doing so, is a great step to help everyone move their conversations forward.
If it’s a larger group, you can allow people to opt into sharing their contact info when they register. Then create a spreadsheet which you share with those in attendance (I prefer it in PDF, so it’s not easily copied or downloaded into an email marketing tool. It’s not meant for spamming, but for individual and intentional follow-up.)
Samantha Katz, who heads up community engagement at New York Distilling Company, explains how and why she does it saying, “With everyone’s permission, I send a recap email with everyone cc’d, including links to businesses, social media profiles, offers, asks, and a summary of the general ideas discussed. As much as I enjoy being in the room, it is the fire that is stoked in my absence that brings me the most joy.”
Ask for feedback
Depending on the formality and size of your event, you can take different routes to gather feedback. If larger, setting up a four-question survey, which you send in your email follow-up, is helpful.
Asking questions like “My goal for you is to kickstart new relationships. Do you feel you achieved that goal? Why or why not?”, “What motivated you to come, and was your experience in line with your expectations?”, “Do you have any stories you can share about successes that have come from relationships you’ve made at these events?”, and “Anything you’d like to add?”.
It’s important to spend some time in reflection, deciding whether your event was deemed ‘worth it’ by your standards, and by the feedback from your guests. Determine whether or not to plan another, repeat what you did, try something completely different, or adapt what you created.
I look forward to hearing about (and perhaps being invited to) your upcoming events, as well as hearing how you see the expansion of the value you create through them, and in turn, how your influence grows.
This article recently appeared on Forbes.