Meeting people online is the (somewhat) easy part of networking. It’s the face-to-face networking that can cause even the most outgoing entrepreneurs a moment of trepidation. But sometimes a face-to-face is your best choice-especially if you need to solve a problem or have a particular project that you want to collaborate on, like joining together to create an API service. If you have that problem or that big idea, and you want to fuel the creative fires by pulling together other minds, try these six steps for organizing and hosting your own developer networking event. The added bonus: Hosting your own developer event allows you to set the agenda and network with your colleagues to exchange ideas and build stronger relationships.
Go to some developer events in your area and see how they are organized. Make a list of what you like and don’t like about the event as an attendee and keep that in mind as you plan your event. You might also consider partnering with an existing group and giving a guest presentation or co-sponsoring the event. This would allow you to leverage their resources and their built-in member base to market your event.
Plan the agenda
Even if you’re thinking of a low-key discussion over micro-brews, a loose agenda will help ensure that everyone gets what they want out of the gathering.
Determine an overarching purpose for the event (e.g., to discuss a particular topic such as HTML 5; to share best practices for geo-expansion; to determine co-marketing opportunities). You’ll use this in your invitation and communications to attendees. If there are certain invitees that you think could lead the conversation because of their particular expertise, reach out to them early and run the agenda by them. They may have suggestions for the agenda that will help structure the event.
If your event will be more formal, include a schedule in your agenda. Block off time for each topic, and make sure you leave time for open discussions-you may find the Q&A is the most valuable parts of your event.
Establish a budget
Are you sharing the cost with attendees? Or are you financially hosting the event as well? Either way, it’s important to calculate your costs beforehand to keep the budget manageable. Consider space reservation costs, food and drink, printing, technical, and more. Check out this complete list of budget line items to get you started.
Choose the venue
The decision of where you host the event will affect some of your other decisions. If you choose a restaurant, it’s likely all the food, drink, flatware and linens will be covered in one cost and with one contact. If you choose a meeting room, they may have A/V support on-site but not food and drink-your contact will probably have recommendations for caterers. Be sure to confirm these details-from tables and chairs to wine glasses-to ensure that you know that everything is covered and which vendor is responsible. Find out who your point-of-contacts will be on the day of the event and have them on speed dial for any last minute changes (fewer or more attendees) and questions.
When comparing locations, consider parking, business services (wifi, printing), and A/V needs. A final note-when planning the food, determine your guests’ special dietary needs. Confirm that the vendor who provides the food can accommodate vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and other dietary needs, then be sure to ask attendees when they RSVP for any special dietary requests.
Market the Event
Email invitations are the most cost-effective way to get the word out. Ideally, you would send a save the date email a few months ahead of time, and then an invitation six weeks, three weeks, and one week prior to the event. Finally, an email the day of the event to those who have signed up and a last-chance recruitment email to your non-responders, if you still have spaces left. Keep the email short, but include enough information to tell the recipients why they should care about the event and what they’ll get out of it.
You can also promote your event via other organizations and at other events. Prepare a brief description of your event and contact information, and reach out to those groups at least six weeks before your event asking them to include the information in their upcoming newsletter or member emails. Offer to reciprocate by distributing information about their future events at your event.
At the Event
Do you need signage at the event location to help attendees find you? What about name badges or tabletop name signs? Depending on how large your event is, most people welcome having the reminder of their colleagues’ names. You may want to have printable versions of the agenda and printed versions of presentations to make it easier for attendees to take notes. A sign-up sheet that invites attendees to join an email group to continue the conversation post-event is a great way to strengthen the relationships made.
These basics will get you started. There are lots of good tips out there on how to make your networking event successful, and ideas for holding customer events.
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