Archive for March, 2012

10 ways to ensure great attendance numbers at your networking events

March 26, 2012

As a professional speaker and a supporter of not for profit groups and associations, I am always intrigued why some events have very small numbers of attendees and others have hundreds of people. A few weeks ago, I spoke to one group of 8 people one day, 10 people the next day and 300 people the next day. Yes they were all in different locations, but the one with 300 people stood out for all the right reasons. Would love to share some of those reasons with you:

1. The organisers of this event were extremely organised. Once they verbally confirmed my involvement with the event, they confirmed the engagement in writing, the fee involved, location, timing etc. And this was confirmed 3 months before the event. Plus they requested my information, photo etc. at that time, so everything was completed then and there. The date was locked in, there was no confusion.

TIP: Many organisers volunteer their time and are juggling their roles, leaving many things to the last minute. However, once you lock in the speaker and confirm the date in writing, request the title of the talk, topic outline, bio, photo and introduction. Then you have everything finalised and ready for the invitation. As soon as you get the information create the invitation  so everything is done then and there.

2. They have a large database of local people who have attended events before and give those people lots of notice about the event dates. Personally I think  the more notice you give for events, the more chance you have of people attending. You really want people to lock this into their diary as a “Yes, I am definitely attending this event, and I will mention it to my friends.” If possible give people at least 4-5 weeks (minimum) notice about your event.

TIP: If you hold regular events, it helps to have a set day of the month when your events will happen. Years ago when I ran women’s networks. We met for dinner on the first Thursday of the month in the city and the 3rd Wednesday of the month in Parramatta. Members and guests knew weeks ahead what dates to hold PLUS we had invitations prepared months ahead so if people could not attend one month, they would book for the following month. And I realise in regional areas sometimes there is a need to be flexible with dates to accommodate the availability of industry experts in your region. The more organised you are, the easier it will be for you to attract good speakers – if they are not available one month, they may be able to juggle their schedules for a future event.

3. The organiser worked very closely with their sponsors and managed to secure a local community newspaper as one of the sponsors. This meant that a half page advertisement was used to promote the event over a couple of months lead up – again ensuring locals knew about the event. And the newspaper sponsor presented briefly on the day.

TIP: In a tight corporate market working win/win with sponsors is imperative. You can never guarantee that a sponsor will generate business from sponsoring an event, but if you make sure that you give them lots of recognition and show appreciation for their support – it can go a  long way to ensure their return on investment and repeat sponsorship at future events.

4. If your members or guests are notorious for late bookings – give them an incentive to book and prepay by a certain date prior to the event. Early bird booking draws can be just the incentive your potential guests need to lock in the date, and book and prepay.

TIP: Let your members know that they can donate this early bird booking prize for one or more events. Remember to ask for help before you need it and again plan your early bird incentives for at least 3 forward events, rather than leaving everything to the last minute.

5. Using social media to promote your event has never been easier. Talking about your event and who is attending on your Face book page enables you to spread the word about your event. Plus listing it on LinkedIn in the events area can attract more non members,who respond to your keywords in your promotion. Plus twitter, podcasts with short interviews from the guests speakers, free webinars, YouTube bites – are all great ways of getting your event message out.

TIP: If you are not across all social media, look within your membership or networks for social media people who can help you with this promotion. Outsourcing this task can be a great way of saving you time and tapping into an expert’s expertise. False economy is trying to do it all yourself if you are unsure where to start.

6. The more you tell, the more you sell. Most professional speakers provide a title and outline of what they will speak about tailored to who is potentially going to be in the audience. Again once you have defined your audience, you can use a standard confirmation letter/email that outlines everything the speaker needs to know. Your membership website probably has this information anyway. I was very disappointed recently when I had provided a 250 word description for a small business presentation, weeks before the event  – and all that had been used was a description – Robyn Henderson – Networking Guru – Networking To Win. Networking To Win is the name of my business, I personally loathe the word guru, and not surprisingly only 7 people showed up. Reality is the organiser might know lots about the speaker, but the potential attendees have never heard of them.

Yes it was a regional area, but one I had driven 400 kms to be at. I suggested to the organiser that if they are limited for space with their invitation promotion – at least include the speaker’s website so that potential guests can read more about the speaker before they decide to attend. With only 7 people in attendance, the future of the network will ultimately be at risk because it becomes financially unviable for the organisers to continue holding the event. Not to mention the venues are annoyed when the numbers are low. Some insist on minimum numbers and this can drive up the overheads for the organisers as well.  Our time is so precious these days, we want to be sure we are not going to waste a  minute of it by seeing a speaker that we really don’t know much about.

TIP: Again if you are volunteering your time or find that the invitation is the last thing that you get to every month, consider engaging a virtual assistant who can create the invitations for you and aim to plan at least 3 months ahead. You will be surprised at your positive results and it will be worth engaging a professional to do the invitations for you. Remember the more you tell about the potential event, the more you sell.

7. Show bags are a great way of helping members to promote their businesses to the audience. One of my favourite networks is Women’s Network Australia www.womensnetwork.com.au Lynette Palmen is the WNA founder and runs excellent meetings across Australia with a set format and meeting flow. Whether you are in Perth or Albury, you know that the format will be consistent. One of the win/win opportunities WNA offers its members is if the member donates a lucky door prize at the event, they can include their flyer in the show bag on the seat. Obviously they have to arrive earlier at the  event to insert their flyers, but everyone gets an opportunity to win their donated gift and hear more about their business. Plus the member who donates the gifts, draws the prize winner at the end of the meeting. The Christmas event is fantastic, more than 50% of attendees usually give prizes so it is lots of fun.

TIP: A show bag does not have to be an expensive item – maybe a local business, bank, hotel or restaurant may donate the bags as a cross promotional opportunity. And giving guests a show bag ensures that the tables don’t end up with lots of paper everywhere. I always recommend to people that they look at every item in their show bag, when they take it home,  and if it is not relevant to them, it may be relevant to someone in their network and they can pass it on.

8. Name tags are a non negotiable MUST at every networking event. As a baby boomer, 50 plus, I admit to forgetting names from time to time. Interestingly in Geelong recently, I asked a group of 100 under 35s, “who in the room has trouble remembering names?” and more than 80% of the room raised their hand.  Make sure the name tags are at least 16 point font and easy to read. Many networks have a different name tag for their committee or executive, which is a great idea for two reasons. Firstly, they will gain recognition for the role they have within the network and secondly, different name tags makes it really easy for new members or first time attendees to  know who to approach with their queries.

TIP: If it is a very large event, it may be useful to have a number of registration tables with the classifications clearly marked on the table and high enough above the table for people to read from a distance e.g. A – D, E-K, L-S, T-Z. I would recommend that you sort the name tags alphabetically by surname. And help the registration person by given them an alphabetical attendee list and a highlight pen to mark guest names as they arrive. Such a minor thing and I cannot tell you how many times this is overlooked creating a bottle neck at registration.

9. Start the meeting on time and finish on time. One of my first speaking mentors, Doug Malouf, drummed this home to me 20 years ago when I launched my speaking business and ran women’s networks. Everyone’s time is really valuable – not just the speakers. If the meeting says 12.15 for a 12.30 start – 2.30 pm Start the meeting on time and finish on time. If there is a situation where some guests are delayed for whatever reason, acknowledge that situation when you start the proceedings, so that other guests won’t be too disrupted with the late arrivals, but START ON TIME!

TIP:  I have emceed many events and I always check with the organiser how flexible they want to be with time. However, I stress to them, if we don’t start on time, we cannot expect to finish on time. And the fall out or disruption created in the kitchen when time blows out can be the difference between a great meal and a disaster.

10. Appoint two meet and greet persons for the event. Ideally two friendly people, who can arrive early and are happy to take on the role. A meet and greet person does exactly that – “Hi I am Robyn, thanks for coming tonight?’ If it is the guest’s first time at the event and/or the guest knows no one in the room, the first meet and greet person, then takes them away from the registration table and introduces them to their next person – the second meet and greet person. You can have great speakers, great food, great atmosphere, but if a guest feels awkward or unwelcome, they don’t come back.

TIP: I encourage networks to put a small star sticker or a small dot – something to indicate to “the regulars” that this guest is a first timer at this event. The reason is to make the person feel special and make it easier for them to be identified. Don’t even think about doing this if you don’t have a couple of people lined up to look out for the first timers. However, if you do take this step, you will be surprised how quickly these guests become members. Great news travels fast – people love to share their positive (and negative) experiences today via social media, word of mouth and networking.

I firmly believe when you put the time in to create systems that work and you stick to the systems and ensure that September’s meeting format is similiar to July’s meeting format, your members will respond to your professionalism and keep coming back to your events. That is not to say I would not encourage innovation – however, every event MUST start with a plan, a checklist and an awareness. This is what we do to ensure we can create the potentially best event possible within our budget. We do this because we want our members, guest speakers and guests to have a fantastic experience, to feel that they have justified taking x hours out of their busy day to attend the event, and that we respect the financial and time investment they give us every time they book to attend an event.

These are my 10 tips based on experiences in the last few weeks. Feel free to let me know what you think  attracts people to attend events in today’s crowded networking events space. And look out for my  future blogs on the latest global networking event models.

Until next time – happy networking.

Looking at the lighter side of being a road warrior can keep you sane!

March 25, 2012

For those who don’t travel extensively with their work, it may sound very exciting to have one day in Brisbane, one in Sydney and the next in Perth – but the road warrior knows – it can be exhausting. Would love to share the lighter side of last week with you and I am sure any regular road warriors will also appreciate the humour in my experiences.

These days with a tight corporate market, I aim to make myself available to as many speaking opportunities as I can – even though sometimes the logistics become very interesting. Last week was a perfect example – On Tuesday night I presented in Geelong, Wednesday lunchtime in Hobart, Thursday evening in Brisbane and Friday afternoon in Sydney. Sounds simple enough. Logistically it looked like this:

1. Tuesday – fly to Melbourne – pick up a rental car – drive to Geelong – check in to hotel – mini rest in the afternoon, presented to a great group of young professionals in the evening, back to the hotel around 8pm, watched a bit of TV and off to sleep.

2. Wednesday – Woke at 5 a.m., drove from Geelong to Tullamarine airport, topped up the petrol, returned the rental car, breakfast at the airport, flew to Hobart, presented to a small group of business owners about writing articles, ebooks, blogs etc., taxi to the airport, 3 hour wait for flight Hobart to Gold Coast and home to Tweed Heads around 10 pm.

3. Thursday – catch up mode in the office in the morning and then drove to Brisbane. Checked into the hotel, had a couple of hours nap, set up for the evening presentation to a group of Office Professionals – great presentation, lots of questions, chatted to the participants, back to the hotel room and a reasonably early night.

4. Friday – Alarm woke me at 5 a.m. NSW time, checked out of  hotel, drove to Brisbane airport in time for 6 a.m. Qld. departure, navigated the Brisbane airport car park – which will be fantastic when it is completed, but is slightly confusing right now for a New South Welshman, breakfast at the airport,  flight delayed, we finally board at 6.30 am qld and eventually get to Sydney around 9 a.m. nsw Thankfully I am the after lunch speaker so I make my way to Luna park – a great venue for the  Executive Assistants Network conference – lots of fun with the audience. Quick change back into my travel clothes, back to the airport for another 2 hour wait for flight departure to Brisbane. Traverse the Brisbane airport car park again and drive back to Tweed Heads – Lots of road works, entertained myself by listening to the car radio – unfortunately my football team lost their match, home at 10.30 pm. Exhausted!

Thankfully not every week is like this – have voice will travel. Would love to share some funny things that happened during those travels.

1. On Thursday night after my presentation I was given a lovely bunch of flowers and I also had a bag with some books in it, handouts etc. and a display unit for the books. I asked one of the staff to help me carry my bits and pieces to my room, which was on the same floor as the conference room. We were chatting away and as I got to the room and swiped the lock I opened the door to a very neat room, all the pillows fluffed up on the bed, curtains closed, chocolates on the bed. “Oh no, this isn’t my room”  – “Well it must be your room or you would not be able to open the door.” No, I definitely left my room messy, I had a sleep this afternoon and I didn’t make the bed, and I definitely would not have chocolates on the bed because I would eat them.” “Robyn, this is definitely your room. The housemaid freshens up the rooms every evening.” I slunk into the room feeling like a total idiot! It definitely was my room and those chocolates were very tasty!

2. On Tuesday driving from Geelong to Melbourne airport was interesting. I have been known to get lost before and I have a resistance to using GPS navigators as I think if we keep dumbing down our brains by using appliances to think for us – we will end up with inactive brains. Well that’s my theory. I know I had driven from Melbourne airport to Geelong – but I did take a wrong turn with some road works and ended up on the wrong road, so I made sure I checked with the hotel receptionist – “you can’t miss it, just get into the western ring road and follow the airport sign”. That sounded easy enough and I managed to find the right road heading out of Geelong – and I was off. Lots of airport signs, I was on a roll. Picture me driving on a straight road, no chance to turn off anywhere since the last airport sign I had seen. And all of sudden – there is a sign Corio and another name that escapes me, but no airport signage. Mild panic overtook as I doubted my navigational ability, wondered exactly how on a straight road I had managed to get onto the wrong road – and now I looked like I was on the road to Corio. I had almost talked myself into purchasing a GPS device, when I saw that wonderful blue airport sign – phew – I was still on the right road – I am not totally incompetent. Before long I was at the airport, now to fill up the petrol and return the rental car.

3. Just in case you find yourself in a similiar situation – let me share my mistake with you. As you approach tullamarine airport there are large domestic arrival, departures, car park, rental car return signs – but only if you are facing the actual airport. There is only one garage close to the airport where you can top up your petrol and as you approach the airport entrance, you must turn to the right to get to the petrol station. Then once you have filled up you come back on that same road and turn right into the drive up to the arrivals, departures and parking – but there are no signs visible as you turn right. So what looks to be rental cars return is in fact the short and long term car park entrance – as I found out.

Definitely not where I wanted to be, but driving into that entrance, I did see the sign for the next lane saying rental car returns. So I quickly did a u-turn, cameras flashed recording my driving the wrong way – who knows when I will get the fine for that error and I quickly zipped back out onto the road and back in to the rental car returns lane. I wondered to myself, how many people get caught with that scenario every day. As I left the rental car with the attendant I suggested that the rental car companies suggest some signage for the people coming from the garage – to avoid what had just happened to me. “Yes, we get complaints all the time. You are you lucky didn’t go through the short term car park and drive around the block, because they would have charged you for that short term visit – even though they know you are a rental car looking for us”. So I guess I should be grateful, that I may only get a fine for driving the wrong way out of the car park entrance!   And I made the flight on time.

4. Speaking of that flight. By the time I grabbed some breakfast, bought the newspapers and waited for the flight, I was tired. So much so that as I boarded the Melbourne/Hobart flight I knew I would probably sleep my way to Hobart.  Thankfully I had a window seat and was no sooner in the seat than I shut my eyes and dropped into a deep sleep. What seemed an hour later I opened my eyes to see the plane taxi-ing along the runway, and I patted myself on the back thinking how smart am I – I have slept the whole Melbourne/Hobart flight and feel totally refreshed.

Not quite, as I looked beyond the runway, I realised we were still in Melbourne and the flight had not even lifted off the tarmac – we were still moving on the ground. Oh dear, tiredness often makes you imagine things that are not as they are.

5. Finally, on Friday night I made my way through the Brisbane Airport carpark, starting at the ground floor, up two flights on the travelator with my trolley to get across the road and into the main carpark building, pay the parking ticket in the quickest credit card muncher I have ever seen, and make my way in the lift back down to the ground floor to my car. Having mislaid my car many times over the year, I am very particular now about making a note of the row where I left the car and I knew that my car was on the ground floor  in row NI – now just in case you ever park in NI – let me tell you that how a car park looks at 5 a.m. Qld when you park the car and 9 pm Qld when you collect the car is very different – even NI looks different – and heads up – NI is in two sections – north and south. And I am now very familiar with both of them.

I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world and love what I do. And I have also learned to reduce my stress, I have to look for the humour in things when they don’t quite go to plan. And for the non road warriors, rather than imagine how glamorous all that travel sounds, the next time you speak to your road warrior mate, ask them about some of the things that don’t quite go to plan.

Happy networking until next time.

 

 

When it comes to referrals, LinkedIn is NOT Facebook!

March 6, 2012

Social media is brilliant – however, many people don’t get it. Even on social media, we must still earn the right to ask for and receive referrals – just because you are linked – does not mean I know you well enough to recommend you, like or trust you or am prepared to open my valued network to you. Yes I choose to have an open profile, and I encourage all LinkedIn connections to have open profiles. However, for you to maximise trawling through my connections list, before you connect or send an invitation to connect to someone you don’t really know, it will pay you to put in the time reading the person’s profiles, groups they belong to and review the number of people you have in common. Networking takes time and maximising your opportunities on LinkedIn takes time too yet the results and potential rewards are worth it.

Please don’t be offended by this. Here are the facts (as I see the world). And I know that some readers will disagree and that’s okay. I believe if you don’t stand for something, you may fall for anything.:

* every time I give a referral to someone in my network, I risk losing my own credibility. So my policy when it comes to recommending speakers or industry experts is to only refer people who I have seen speak professionally. This sounds logical enough. Yet a week does not go past, without someone somewhere asking me to open up my client list to them – because they happen to know me or know someone who knows me. And I know I risk losing them as a connection when I explain that I only refer speakers, who I have seen speak. You see, I would rather lose one connection, who disapproved of my recommendations policy, rather than my reputation with someone whom I know well. and have built a bridge of trust of a period of time. And I will often say to the speaker wanting the introduction, invite me to an event you are speaking at, so I can see you present. I can count on one hand, those invitations I have received over the last twenty years.

* And in saying that, if someone asked me for a specific topic and I didn’t personally know that speaker, I would definitely mention them to the third party, but explain that they should do their homework on the speaker’s suitability for their project. And LinkedIn makes checking recommendations very easy – by just looking at the person’s profile and checking out their recommendations you will be able to check their suitability for yourself.

Of course, this principal does not just apply for professional speakers, it applies across the board with all professions. Every time you give a referral you risk losing some of your own credibility if the referee does not meet the third parties expectations.

* what I am also noticing on LinkedIn, is that once you connect, some people send you an “offer” – 50% off, 80% off – a “deal” – and a request to recommend me to your friends. Why would I do that? I may not even be interested in your unrequested offer, so why would I fill up my valued networks inbox with offers that they don’t want either. Well there might be a handful that would be interested – but I will let them find you through their various search methods, rather than risk alienating my network. Or if you become active on LinkedIn – you too will build a strong and broad network. LinkedIn is NOT Facebook.

* Once you understand the law of reciprocity – what you give out comes back ten fold – you will realise that if you want recommendations for your LinkedIn profile – all you have to do is recommend others. In my networking presentations, I suggest to people that as a minimum they give away one referral a week to their network, whether it’s a referral for business, a restaurant, event or film you have experienced and enjoyed  – a recommendation.  And if that is not possible, then talk something up, have something good to say about another.

How long should your LinkedIn recommendation be for a service provider, supplier or one of your network? Sometimes one line is enough, sometimes it may be a paragraph or two. I will give LinkedIn full credit – it is continually improving its systems and makes it so easy for you to recommend people in your network. And you have to make the effort to do it.

Again I know I risk alienating even more people when I say no to a request for a recommendation or an easy introduction – but I know that business and relationships are built on clear communication, building trust and valuing your network.

Let me share with you the difference between a tip, a lead and a referral. I know I have blogged about this before, but it is one of the keys to your business or career growth.

A tip – is almost gossip – e.g. there is a hotel in the CBD doing a refurbishment. this is almost useless information and not very helpful at all if you are in the refurbishing business.

A lead, the Central Plaza Hotel is doing a large refurbishing project this year.  Yes I have more information and at least have identified the location.

A referral, I have been speaking to John Smith from the Central Plaza Hotel in the CBD, they are doing a large refurbishing project this year. I mentioned you would be perfect for that project and I gave him your details. Here is his number, he is expecting to hear from you in the next 24 hours. That is a referral!

Will you get the contract? Possibly something like this might be a tender situation, but talking to the key player will certainly give you heads up on the brief, time frame etc. And if it’s not a tender situation, well at least you throw your hat into the ring with that third party endorsement.

Over time, you will build a network of suppliers and service providers that you will trust almost with your life – certainly with your reputation. And sometimes they too may let you down. Let me share a recent experience with you. Without hesitation, I recommended a graphic designer to an author I was working with and gave them a huge wrap. The author paid a 50% deposit, we briefed the designer and waited for the proofs. What came through was nothing like what the author or I had requested – not the right colours, image, it was a disaster.

I spoke to the author immediately and explained I did not know why the graphic designer had not met the brief and recommended that we not proceed with the designs. The client was very disappointed and suggested they would use their regular graphic designer and that was that.

I knew that the graphic designer had a death in the family 6 weeks previously, and although they appeared to be on top of things, grief, as many of us know takes time to recover from. I was delighted when I saw the email from the original graphic designer to the author, admitting their error in not following the brief, apologising profusely and advising that they would refund the deposit that day. I was delighted they had taken that action, the author was pleased and commented on the graphic designer’s professionalism. Will I continue to refer work to the graphic designer? Yes, I have already. I believe we can always forgive an OOPS (a mistake) – when it is managed well and no one is disadvantaged.

Isn’t it an exciting world we live in today? This is just my personal opinion, you may agree with part or all of it or none of it – and thats okay too.

The master networkers, whom I respect have systems, proceedures and ways of operating – and they stick to them – even though at times their decisions are not popular. Similar to leadership, networking is not a popularity contest – and not everyone is going to like you. However, when they understand the reasons behind your decisions, maybe they accept you to not – and that’s okay too.

An action step you may consider for today, is to look at your LinkedIn connections list and select 5 people you would recommend and send them a recommendation. Don’t be surprised if you received some very appreciative response.

Happy networking until next time.

5 tips for completing a self audit before you start a strategic alliance

March 6, 2012

My favourite  strategic alliance quote is taken from an African proverb – “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go togther.” Yet often when we approach people about forming strategic alliances, we approach them “cap in hand” so to speak – as if they are doing us a favour by saying yes. Rather than valuing what we have to offer an alliance. For your own sense of self worth, I recommend that you complete the following exercise prior to setting up a strategic alliance.

1. CONSIDER YOUR NETWORKS – how large are your networks, how diverse, what industries do they cross, how geographically diverse are they? How percentage of your network would  be advocates for you?

2. WORK HISTORY – what skills are you currently using in your current role as well as all your past positions? What other skills do you have that you may have developed in special interest groups or peer groups? What skills are a little rusty and just need a little top up to bring you back to speed?

3. LIFE EXPERIENCES – we are not our jobs or the titles on our business card. We are people who have had a lifetime of experiences both negative and positive that we bring to every meeting we attend or network we break into. Of course none of these experiences are obvious to look at us. You may have lived in another country for your school years – that doesn’t show now, but what a gift to bring to an alliance when someone is wanting to do business in that country. Local knowledge is invaluable. You have knowlege that is not written in the guide books or the general websites. Your life experiences are your real gifts to your networks and alliances.

4. PASSION – we are all passionate about something – for some it’s a sporting team, a political cause, a charity, our future, our children and our career and business. Coupled with our life experiences our passions are incredibly valuable.

5. RESOURCES – this is a very descriptive word and covers available income to invest in this project/alliance, available time to commit to the outcomes, potential staff members that you can lend to the project administrative duties, you may have a virtual assistant who you can delegate some of the work to, you may step up as the leader of the project, or more importantly the person who ensures the project is completed.

Based on your responses to these five points, my intention is to make you realise just how valuable you are to the success of the alliance. Never again go cap in hand to anything – you have thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of invaluable gifts and knowledge to bring to every network, alliance and opportunity that will come across your path this week, this month or this year.

When you value you, other people value you too!