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The Best Networking Event Formats

by Rosalind McCarthy on July 31, 2014

networking event formate[/caption]Choosing the format for your networking event is a crucial decision and depends not only on your event objectives, but also the size of the group and how well members know each other.

We’ve compiled a quick list of our favourite networking event formats and will be looking into each of these in more depth over the coming weeks:

Elevator Pitch

Every member of the group gives a short speech on themselves and their business/field of expertise for 5 minutes. Members who’d then like to meet them can approach them afterwards or hand their business card to a central coordinator who passes them on at the end.

Pros – Everyone gets the chance to talk and for a controlled amount of time.

Cons – It’s very difficult to get a feel for someone and what they do in 5 minutes, particularly if you can’t ask any questions. Also, some members may find speaking in front of a large group of strangers difficult.


In this instance, rather than describe what they do, group members actually demonstrate it instead. At each session, a number of members set up an exhibition stand and present their business to group members, much like a trade show.

Pros – Less contrived than the elevator pitch. It’s easier to get a handle on the business, as this format is closer to the day job. Works particularly well with products and tangible services.

Cons – Obviously not all the group can have a stand at once. Also, those exhibiting may miss out on visiting the other stands in that session. It’s hard for some service providers to demonstrate their line of work in this way so event organsiers may need to help them with some creative ideas here.

Speed Networking

Operates in much the same way as the dating version but with a different objective! Half the group are sat at individual tables the other half move from table to table spending 5-10 minutes talking with each person.

Pros – It’s as if pubs and bars were designed specifically for speed networking. Members get quality 1:1 time and decide for themselves how to spend it.

Cons – 5-10 minutes is actually quite a long time to spend with someone you’ve got no interest in making a connection with. Not ideal if you have members who are very focused on who they want to speak to.

Networking Circles

Members sit on round tables (of 8 people max) and each spend 5 minutes talking through a current business issue they’d like advice on which the group then spends 5 minutes discussing together. Each session should take up to an hour and a half before members move on to the next group.

Pros – Provides in depth interactions between members. The group can really get a feel for the individual and their business through discussion real-life business issues. Those presenting may well go home with good quality, useable feedback.

Cons – This format takes time and the sessions can be quite intense. It’s about quality of interaction over quantity of connections.


Similar to networking circles, but rather than discuss individual issues, a group topic or activity is selected instead. This is a classic idea that can be rebranded in a new way - check out our recent article on bringing the spirit of the hackathon to your next event.

Pros – Here members are demonstrating their skill set rather than selling it. It’s a great opportunity for companies where cross-functional groups can come together to discuss pressing organisational challenges.

Cons – This is a tall order for groups in the first stages of group development – but a great format to work up to. Watch out for dominant personalities taking over and suppressing the input of quieter members of the group.

Breakfast Meetings

Networking breakfasts need to be well structured to give members the most benefit, as time is limited. Speakers work particularly well at breakfast meetings as it gives members a chance to focus and freshen their minds. They are a good networking opportunity before conferences too and also help to stagger event registration.

Pros - Networking breakfasts are a great option for time poor professionals and early birds.

Cons – Working parents may find these difficult to juggle with the school run. Morning meetings aren’t appropriate for some industries either. Event industry networking breakfast anyone?! Didn’t think so….

Dinner With Switching Seats

A sit down dinner presents a more informal networking opportunity (however formal the dinner itself). Keep the group circulating by asking every second person to move tables after each course.

Pros – Members can talk more naturally and really get to know one another with no pre-prepared speeches or 5 minute time limit. Also, everyone has at least a 50:50 chance of sitting next to someone interesting at each course! It’s a great option if you want to have direct influence over who talks to who.

Cons – This is not an effective option for those looking to make the most interactions over a set amount of time. Indeed, networking dinners can go on quite a bit which may put some people off in itself and they’re hard to duck out of without anyone noticing.

Whichever one you chose, try and mix it up. Regularly introducing new formats to your networking events will keep members engaged and done effectively, will help to develop and strengthen the connections within the group.


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