Having a Networking Party

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Ah. Sign of the times (cue Prince). I have been getting requests about “how to throw a networking party”. My first thought was I’ve never thrown a networking party – but wait! Correction – all of my parties are potential networking parties. The deal with a networking party is, unlike other events, it really is up to the participants to make it work or not. You are the facilitator but the truth is, a really crafty intelligent “networker” can find a business contact while riding the M34 crosstown or shopping for chew toys at Pet Smart.

They (aka Superstar Hustlers) are naturally inquisitive, approachable, proud of their work (thus it rolls off their tongues with ease and NOT as a sales pitch). If you feel you need to enhance your networking abilities, a must read is “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. Its an easy read with plenty of brilliant ideas. Keith also has a blog online offering plenty of insight.

I can be a pretty hardcore networker. However, I spend most of that networking energy on being the best Connector a la Malcolm Gladwell (with a “minor” in Event Planning Maven) and get great pleasure out of connecting people with similar business or personal interests. Thus all of these parties. So how would Auntie Carrie and I have a Networking Party? With that as our primary intent? This is what comes to mind:

1. Call it ANYTHING other than a Networking Party.
When you discuss the event, create your invites, send out press releases etc, you will naturally mention that 100 (or whatever number) of people from the fields of medicine, fashion, business (fill in the blank) will be attending. Encourage people to bring business cards, their reels etc. However I would stay far far away from calling it a Networking Party. It just sounds so lame. And the few that I have attended felt lopsided: for example, 85% actors and 15% producers/directors etc. Far more people hungry for a job and a small few with any ability to offer a job. So what do you call it? A Birthday Party, Toga Party, Brunch Party, Girls Night Out, Karaoke Night, Cinco de Mayo (hmmm) etc.

2. 50/50 Rule Must Apply.
Using the above example, you will want 50% actors or film job seekers to 50% producers/directors etc. I’ve mentioned before that, for me, 50% of the number of people I’ve invited actually attend. So if I’d like to have a film party totaling 100 people, I’d invite 100 actors/crew and 100 directors/producers.

3. Advanced Notice:
So how can you make sure you keep to my 50/50 rule? All your attendees should be excited about your event. Give advance notice to those directors/producers/execs about who else in their “pool” will be there. That way, they won’t feel alone. Their peers will be there. And do your research in advance in regards to their personal needs. If an invitee has a cushy job already, do an advance “cyber-intro” (email, FB, LinkedIn etc) with another friend of yours who could help them sell their apartment, help their elderly parents find assisted living in their home town, share their vegan chocolate cupcake recipes. Those personal nuggets matter. That way everyone has someone they are excited to meet.

4. Activities: Repeat. NO NETWORKING activities.
Nothing overt. In my not so humble opinion, I would stay clear of name games, passing out head-shots. Ugh. Nor would I just throw everyone into a room and help them get drunk. If you are having a karaoke night for example, you, as the facilitator can chose who sings with whom. Parties centered around a major sporting event are instant bonding. Start $1 bets. Make your own sushi at half time. Get these strangers to know each other as human beings, as good interesting, honest, fun, human beings and they will naturally want to keep in contact. There was a great interview with Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Airlines, in the New York Times where he explained his hiring practice. I paraphrase: everyone has a solid resume, went to the right schools etc, so he asks questions about their family, what books they’ve read to better assess if they will fit into that corporate culture.

4A. Consider No Liquor / Daytime Activities
Organize a boat trip, ultimate frisbee, picnic, brunch or something like “bring your daughters” on a spa date event. Take your dog hiking. Although they may think otherwise, most people are not as charming or intelligent after 4 Gin & Tonics. And by the time you hit age 30, chances are you look darn tired by 10pm. Certainly on a Friday.

5. Invite Chaos:
Even the best facilitator needs the random element to help people find work or a vendor etc. In addition to all of the people who work in your select and related fields (film industry party example: directors, producers, crew, actors. Related fields: television, theater, fashion, music), invite a good number of people completely unrelated. I promise you that the Physics teacher you invite, the Civil Engineer or Linguists has an Uncle whose girlfriend used to baby sit Susan Sarandon’s daughter. And, oh, did you know she is looking for someone to help her on her directing debut? Worse case scenario, if the “random” people you invite truly have no connections, they will still be a HUGE breath of fresh air to your party attendees. Excellent example of introducing the random element into your life is Brian Grazer. A lot of media folks tease Brian about his “cultural attache” but I dig it. Its so easy to become isolated in Hollywood and this tactic led to “A Beautiful Mind” and “American Gangster” .

6. Host Your Butt Off
Keep circulating during your party. Drag one person away to meet another. Wall flowers are not allowed, nor are cliques or groupings by race/sex/whatnot. When introducing people, give everyone a glowing review. Toot their horn. Embarrass them with their accolades. Mention what these two strangers have in common and all of the other wonderful coincidences (which means you have to know these details). Refill their drink, offer a canape and then get the hell out there and on to your next match. Check on your groups every so often and shake them up again. Look fantastic. Be relaxed, happy and delighted.

7. Stir and Repeat Plan on another event in the next 3 months. What could have been an awkward moment between strangers at the first party becomes a private joke at the second.

8. Say Thank You

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~ by Cybel Martin on May 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “Having a Networking Party”

  1. I particularly like no 5 its based on the social psychology concept of super ordinate goals. If you give people who are separate a common problem to solve they will bond.

    • Thank you, Dr. Jayme, for adding some science to what is essentially my intuitiveness about parties. Very much appreciated. I did a little researching on “superordinate goals” and found this article, “Hooping with the Enemy” ( http://tinyurl.com/d2y7vy ) at ESPN.com.

      ” Muzafer Sherif coined the term “superordinate goals” to describe the process by which two competing groups develop goals that “are compelling but cannot be achieved by the efforts of one group alone.”

      Sherif stumbled upon the idea while doing experiments with boys at a summer camp. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to mediate disputes between the two groups, Sherif had counselors at the camp sabotage the water supply. The only way for the boys to fix the problem was to work together. After the boys fixed the problem, Sherif reported that conflicts between them de-escalated and future conflict was reduced. Sherif noted a sharp decrease in name-calling and derogation of the out-group after the superordinate goal was achieved. He also found that the boys were less likely to glorify or brag about the in-group.

      He concluded that group contact, even with dialogue, can lead to further argument and recriminations without superordinate goals. However, when superordinate goals were present, communication between groups moved in the direction of reducing conflict.”

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