by Charity Van Vleet, IWN Director of Events & Social Media
I don’t often get nervous about networking events. I’ve been networking for six years and while I’ve certainly not done all there is to do, I’m experienced enough to be confident talking to people and helping them connect. My role as IWN Director has pushed me to expand my skills and get outside my comfort zone a little bit, which is a healthy thing. So this month when I set up my first event, I fully expected it would go smoothly. After all, I regularly coordinate things – website designs, recently a launch party for a client, and a ton of other projects – it’s a part of my day-to-day. What could go wrong? How different could it be?
Very different, I immediately found out, when I arrived 20 minutes early before the Coffee Connections at the Starbucks location to find not an empty seat in the building. Not. A. Single. One. And the manager had left 10 minutes before I got there. I think my heart fell into my toes and stayed there! I stared around me, dumbfounded. I was only expecting a maximum of 25 people and there weren’t seats for but a couple. Most of them were outside. My mind was screaming, “This is a disaster! What do I do?”
Looking back, I can imagine people new to networking must have to overcome that same overwhelming, paralyzing fear. Who do I talk to? What do I say? I knew the show must go on – people need a way to connect and my job is to provide it to them. I would just have to find a way.
My good friend, Jodi Reynolds, IWN Board Member and Director of Programs arrived on the scene and did a good job of trying to slow down my panic – her humor always helps me relax. If you haven’t met her yet, she’s one of the warmest people you could hope to meet. In any case, I hurried around the corner to the Taco Diner to see if they had room. They were willing but the menu really didn’t appeal to me nor did the decor. I headed back and the small group I’d left behind to chat had doubled in size. What a great turnout! Now where were we going to chat at?
Robin Anderson of Dowson’s Cleaning Systems, a new visitor to IWN, suggested we move across the parking lot to the Red, Hot & Blue Memphis Pit BBQ restaurant. I immediately headed over there to scope out the location and ask permission for us to take up about 20 seats. Thankfully, Max, one of the excellent bar tenders immediately rallied the staff necessary to bring together tables, chairs, and two servers to assist us. Talk about a can-do spirit! The Red, Hot, and Blue staff were very accommodating, and the food smelled great! I’m definitely going to look into hosting another event there – probably a lunch to try out their delicious smelling food!
I returned to the Starbucks and explained the plan, which everyone enthusiastically agreed with and headed across the parking lot en-masse. Jodi gamely agreed to stay behind for 10 minutes (and miss a bit of the fun) to direct newcomers to our changed location. Within a few minutes we were seated and servers taking our drink requests. For the first time it hit me – holy cow did I have a great turnout for a brand new event! Not only that but a lot of new faces! In fact, at the end of the event we had 15 total attendees – 7 guests, and 8 IWN members. A 1:1 ratio of members to guests – not bad! Not to mention having almost 50% visitor attendance is huge, especially for a brand new event!
Once drinks were ordered and Jodi had joined us, I began the activities by asking everyone to pull out a pen and paper. On it, I asked them to write 1 word to describe themselves in each category of past, present, and future. Once everyone had their answers, one side of the table had two minutes to tell the person across from them about their past. At the end of the time we switched sides and that person talked about their present. For the future, there was five minutes provided for an open discussion about each person’s future.
At the end of the time everyone stood up and gave their name and their business in a quick introduction. A special gift was given to Elizabeth Boyd of Las Colinas Pilates for bringing the most guests (2). Door prizes were given out – a $10 gift card to Red, Hot & Blue, and a half pound of coffee beans from Starbucks.
Once the doorprizes were given out, it was 10 minutes til four and everyone was left to mix and mingle as they saw fit. Several stayed well past 4 (in fact, myself and my friend Michele Norrid stayed until after 5 p.m. chatting), and I found this to be a good sign that everyone didn’t rush to the door at the same time! Some could stay longer, while others had appointments or commitments to keep. All in all, it honestly wasn’t the smoothest event I’ve ever hosted but the show went on and everyone seemed to have a great time, despite the change in venue.
Our next Coffee Connections will be held at Glory House Bistro at 109 S. Main Street from 3 -4 p.m. on March 11th. I hope you’ll join us for another fun adventure and great connections!