“Know whom you know” is not just a double entendre but is also the title of my next book. You might ask, “What does this have to do with meeting planners?” As professionals who are entrusted with creating meaningful and productive events, ones that your attendees will talk to colleagues about and benefit from for many years to come (and from whom you will likely get repeat business), you may think you already “know whom you know” but I want to provide you a few strategies that have worked for me over the years—and I hope they work for you!
For me, the best benefits of organizing “networking” meetings are the benefits that accrue to the meeting attendees (and not to me!). Personally, I believe that makes the meeting memorable and successful.
Both of the examples I share in this article involve taking a very personal approach to networking meetings. While these methods may not work for every single meeting you organize, whether you are in charge of large conventions or small meetings, taking the opportunity to get to know your attendees and sharing insights about them with your audience can create great dynamics and prove to be a positive experience for all involved.
Here are two tips with examples of strategies from which my clients and I have continued to reap years of invaluable contacts and benefits.
Tip 1: “Dinner for 8”—Small is Beautiful
Periodically I arrange dinners in a private room where I invite accomplished professionals from diverse backgrounds and industries. I require each of them to provide me their bio/CV which, in advance, I share with all the attendees. I recently organized one which included leaders from global investment, real estate, tech and legal firms, as well as a community police relations foundation, a hacking expert who worked for the government and an up-and-coming artist who many compare to Andy Warhol.
It’s important for meeting planners to be the catalyst to create the best networking possibilities and take charge!
Read More: 10 Event Networking Ideas That Work
As the organizer, I make sure I am the catalyst who creates the best networking possibilities. At the onset of the meeting, I introduce everyone, talk about what each meeting attendee excels in, and direct them to impart meaningful insights about their business or their skills. I moderate the discussion, call on attendees indiscriminately and curate what they speak about.
As an example, at my last meeting I selected the hacking expert to be the first speaker and shared the story of how I met her (I happened to be at an interview she had with a major media company). I introduced her with a personal account of how she had stunned me by sharing her own story about the medical industry having no walls against hacking, and that pacemakers could be hacked and kill you! With that shocker in mind, I opened the discussion like this:
“Your knowledge and experiences are eye opening as we are all successful business executives and have limited personal knowledge of hacking. What should we know about hacking; do you think there is a potential disaster you are fearful could happen in the future? Her answer was ‘Yes, there is, and this is what you should know.'”
Everyone was immediately drawn into her discussion.
Meetings like this become a catalyst for new relationships and business possibilities. Providing this type of venue to grow business relationships is something that meeting planners can implement with great success (whether or not you have a pacemaker!).
Tip 2: Shared Experiences Can Reap Benefits
As a meeting planner, you collect a lot of valuable information about people, which can be mined in so many ways. When you meet people, make sure you add not only their names to a database, but as much as you can gather about their bios and other descriptive, searchable information. Do you have mutual interests? Contacts? Business experience? You never know when this information will come in handy.
Read More: How to Take Networking to a Higher Plane
Here’s an example where a personal situation turned into a tremendous networking opportunity:
I was undergoing an awful divorce. As I continued to sink lower, I didn’t know where to turn. Then I had an epiphany, much like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” I realized I had the solution the whole time—my database! I’d organize a networking meeting!
I sent an email to my database contacts with this subject line: “Divorced or Divorcing Dads with Young Children Luncheon.” In the email I talked about the emotional and financial horrors of my personal situation, the effects of divorce on children, along with details of a meeting I was planning to hold where we could strategize, vent and network! I had responses from 2,000 people (not a bad return on a database of 8,600 people). After contacting every respondent, I selected 70 people who had some commonality, and invited them to an event. I moderated the meeting, told my story and then was joined by many of the others who shared their stories and advice. From that meeting was born the “Divorcing Dad Council” followed by the launch of “DivorceForce,” the first online community for people going through divorce.
Did this help me? Yes. I got lots of actionable tips. Did it help others? Absolutely. Is this an example of how networking can help others (not only you)? Yes.
My advice: Know Whom You Know. And if you don’t, get to know them! It’s been a helpful and replicable strategy for me to create successful meetings and it can work for you too!
Author, entrepreneur and speaker Jeffrey Meshel is founder/chairman of the Strategic Forum, where business leaders exchange ideas, develop long-term and trustworthy personal and business relationships.
He has written three books, including “Trust Is a Double-Edged Sword: Trust Me,” and is an authority on several topics including forging strategic partnerships with trust, conflict resolution, ethics and team building. A successful entrepreneur and businessperson, his most recent venture is being founder/managing partner of Candor Capital Partners, a real estate acquisition firm and lender.