Friday, 21 May 2010

Making business breakfasts that much more valuable

I was invited to a business breakfast networking event the other day organised by one of the big banks. It was part of their strategy to reach out to small & medium sized enterprises and offer support to their profitability and development. A wholly good thing to be doing in the current economic climate and I applaud their intent.

After a couple of useful conversations with two people over a coffee and croissant, we were invited into a larger room to engage with the main event. But I use the word 'engage' somewhat incorrectly since the meeting became, broadly speaking, anything but.... For more than an hour we were given a series of presentations which were so general that they added very little to my knowledge base. (And I don't think I was the only one.) We were then offered the opportunity to do some further networking which essentially involved visiting a small exhibition of people at the back of the room. I know I am being critical - and I was after all given a free coffee and croissant. But please allow me to look this particular gift horse in the mouth - and suggest some ideas that could make such events far more: 
  • Energising
  • Engaging
  • Business developmental
 ...and as a consequence, a much better advertisement for the sponsoring organisation.

So here are my nine suggestions: 
  1. Stop talking at people, ditch the power points and instead talk with people (and certainly avoid having any speakers who say of their slides "I didn't write this by the way!")
  2. Assume that the people attending already know a great deal about business and inquire into this - people might have some excellent ideas or lessons learnt to share
  3. Invite questions from the people attending and indeed ask questions of them too so that an interactive event is created
  4. Allow people to know who else is in the room - perhaps by having a business card display and swapping scheme
  5. Leave out any hard sell and instead focus on what interests the people coming along - you can ask them beforehand as to what subjects might be discussed
  6. Arrange the chairs in cabaret style to encourage interaction between people
  7. Have a 'wants and offers' notice board to facilitate people finding each other during the event
  8. Be clear about what success will look like - from the viewpoint of the sponsor, but also from the viewpoint of the participant
  9. Use the internet to allow the conversations to continue afterwards - either via the sponsoring organisation's website or some platform like LinkedIn
And this is just the start. I think there is a myriad of ways to make small events and conferences such as these of much greater value to all concerned. And we need fresh & effective ways of interacting, connecting, learning and sharing like we have never needed them before!

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