Over the years, I have attended more venture capital related gatherings than I care to count, in venues ranging from five-star hotels to grungy nightclubs. Some have been deeply engaging. Others have left me with a headache and raspy throat from shouted conversations about exit multiples.
From these experiences, I’ve come to some conclusions about what works and what doesn’t when organizing a venture capital-related event. And as we are officially in schmoozing season, with the pace of networking events and conferences set to remain brisk till summer, I thought I’d share some basic tips for hosting a successful gathering.
Feel free to disagree, but here are my top six:
- Acoustics matter: Pick a venue where people can hear each other talk. After all, that’s the whole point. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve attended an event in a nightclub with music blasting in the background. In other cases, the space is so tightly packed as to require shouting to be heard above the din. Find a place that’s spacious enough for guests to mingle easily and keep the music either off or at a low volume.
- Lighten up: A darkened ambience works well for clubbing or a romantic dinner for two. But for business networking, particularly among people wearing nametags, it all works much better if you can actually see. I’d recommend avoiding venues catering mostly to the late-night set. Rule of thumb: If you can’t see what color the floor is, it’s probably not going to work.
- Circulate, circulate, circulate: Venture networking events work better when the people hosting them also take an active role in mingling, making introductions and helping guests feel comfortable. It’s okay to move on after a few minutes of conversation, but do so graciously. If the host group includes any industry VIPs, such as a well-known CEO or VC, organizers may want to help make sure their time is well spent talking to a lot of people rather than monopolized.
- Alcohol helps: Networking with a roomful of strangers seems less daunting with a drink in one’s hand. That’s probably why the vast majority of venture schmooze events do feature booze, either full bar or the basic wine and beer. Personally, I’m not sure the selection matters so much as making sure there’s something to lighten nerves and stimulate the flow of conversation. Of course, make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks as well.
- Food is nice, not central: I’ve been to many an event featuring circulating trays of tasty snacks, and I must say some of them – from the miniature mushroom empanada to the spoonful of fresh ceviche – were quite delectable. That said, I don’t think anyone attends these events for the food, so don’t make that a big budget or logistics concern. A table with a few basic snacks will also work fine.
- Avoid cliquishness: I would say one of the bigger downers of networking events is the monomaniacal focus among many attendees on finding and speaking only with those deemed most useful to their goal of the moment (which quite often has to do with raising money). Certainly it’s laudable and practical to seek out people who might help one’s cause. But be open to meeting and conversing, at least briefly, with interesting people who may not serve some immediate goal.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.