Last week, our Editor was one of about five BusyBOYS at the latest BusyGirl Forum staged by busygirl.co.uk. With around 130 guests in all, “Ready2 Planit4 Yourself?” (yes, we know that looks like the title of a single by Prince, but the guest speakers were from Ready2shop.com, and Planit4kids.com) was the third event of its kind.
We don’t use words like ‘exemplary’ very often (in fact, this may well be the word’s MarketingSherpa.co.uk debut), but the BusyGirl Forum didn’t fall far short. So we thought we’d tell you why (just in case you’re planning your OWN event in the near future)...
We can’t tell you how important it is to pick the right venue (we know from first-hand experience what happens if you don’t). Busygirl.co.uk have as their founding sponsor PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which means they have the easy-to-find facilities of One Embankment Place at their disposal. And what facilities they are! It made a refreshing change to sit through a presentation which was properly lit and well miked – even the chairs were comfortable (an oft-overlooked point at speaking ‘gigs’).
But our favourite part was the area earmarked for networking. Despite being in the centre of a huge office block, it was like a patio (complete with garden, gravel and gazebos galore) – unless you looked up, you really wouldn’t know you were inside, thanks largely to some clever lighting and a welcome air conditioning system.
Is that such a big deal? Well, frankly, yes it is – it’s really all about atmosphere. If you want to encourage networking, you want to give people a comfortable environment in which to do it – if it ain’t comfy, they won’t stay. Busygirl opted not to play music at their event, but it can be a great help – you can tailor the music to the atmosphere you want to create. Just remember not to play it too loud – you want people to be able to hear themselves network!
One further point about venue, particularly if you want to encourage networking (which surely you DO)... While you need some tables (or other surface-type thing) on which busy networkers can place their drinks whilst doing The Dance of the Business Cards, you shouldn’t have any chairs. Not a one. Why? Because people, creatures of habit as they are, will sit on them. Then mingling comes to a screeching halt. So... it’s surfaces, yes; chairs, no.
The question with refreshments isn’t whether or not to provide them (because, let’s face it, you should at least offer people something to drink), but whether or not to charge. It’s a tough one, and, of course, it depends on your budget (and the sponsorships you’ve been able to raise).
Generally-speaking, while your means might not stretch to a free bar for the night, you really ought to give the punters SOMETHING for free – say, a glass of champers, or a finger buffet. The first-drinks-free option requires some policing, but it can be a great way for you publicise your sponsor – drinks vouchers featuring the sponsor’s logo work well, and they also help the venue to keep track of what’s going across the bar.
If your event is early evening (i.e. after work) then you absolutely must make some form of food available, otherwise your hungry guests will clear off. And if you’re serving food, it has to be free (don’t forget the vegetarians). Ideally, it needs to be gloop-free (you don’t want cottage cheese all over the guests) and manageable without plates (glasses, business cards AND plates is too many things to hold). Canapes, vol aux vents, and other French-sounding small things are just great.
PWC came up trumps for the Busygirl Forum. There was free champagne all evening (we hate to think how those Busygirls felt in the morning); and, a fabulous choice of hot and cold canapes (PWC are renowned for these, we’re told) were brought to us on silver platters!
3. SPEAKERS/VIP GUESTS
Speakers aren’t actually a must-have. In New York, they’ve got networking down to such a fine art that some participants disdain to be interrupted by mere speakers. In fact, pure networking events happen there all the time – “No speakers – networking only!” say the advertisements.
If you’re going to have speakers, you should try and follow a few golden rules (we know it’s difficult, but try):
- make the content interesting and entertaining if possible – at the very least, it should be useful;
- make sure that speakers stick to the point, AND to their allotted time – don’t let them waffle on forever;
- unless your event is a sales pitch, make sure they don’t treat it as a sales pitch;
- speakers individual presentations are fine, but panel discussions are often more useful for your guests - make sure you allow enough time for at least some discussion, and for audience questions;
- your guests want to network (it’s in their blood) - allow plenty of networking time before AND after the presentation/discussion.
Instead of speakers, you might consider having VIP guests at your networking event and announcing them in advance. That way, people will be able to seek them out and ask questions in a more informal way than is possible in an audience environment (let’s face it – we Brits are a wee bit shy when it comes to public Q & A sessions anyway). All you have to do is make sure all of your guests get a fair crack of the VIP (and warn him/her in advance that he’ll be bombarded with questions, of course – chances are s/he’ll be used to it).
As to the golden rules above, Busygirl had it just about right – Trinny Goodall from Ready2shop.com (clearly not afraid to swear in public), Diala Sanbar from Planit4kids.com, and Nick Drewett from PWC were all both entertaining AND informative, at no point descending into the realms of the sales pitch. They all stuck to their 20 minutes each, and plenty of time was allowed for questions. Everybody could have done with fewer (or perhaps shorter) concluding messages from the sponsors, though - there was a detectable increase in fidgeting by the end.
4. EXTRA BITS
We presume you’re familiar with the term ‘added value’? There are so many networking events and new media schmoozes about these days that it’s a good idea to include that little bit extra to keep your guests happy (and to get them talking, of course). You know the sort of thing – a prize draw, corporate freebies in the shape of body parts, or a scantily-clad lifeguard. You can really let your imagination run wild here – after all, you want people to talk about your event and, more importantly, support the next one, don’t you?
One Busygirl was extremely chuffed to discover that she’d won a spanking new Hewlett Packard Multimedia PC in the business card raffle (we were pleased to see a card- swapping frenzy at the event, by the way). We expect she’ll be talking about that for ages. Another huge talking point – the ‘Needs and Offers’ board, the business version of a similar concept in nightclubs (which, we believe they call ‘slag tags’). Guests were encouraged to pin up business notices stating either a need, or making an offer – other guests could respond to these postings as they saw fit. We think this is a great idea – as well as complementing the networking process, it gives people a good indication of who else is at the party.
… So in total we give BusyGirl.co.uk an overall score of **** and a half (give or take the odd fraction) for this great event!
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