In-person networking events are occurring with more frequency. While the global pandemic brought travel and face-to-face gatherings largely to a halt, COVID-19 vaccinations and the new CDC guidance announced recently, have made it a good time to start looking ahead to your next event. Even if it’s six months to a year out, it’s never too early to start the planning process.
Hosting a law firm-sponsored event can be a great way to gather those you want to network with or envision possibly doing business with. Taking the conversation outside of a structured business setting can help foster stronger connections and more straightforward discussion.
So, looking forward, how can you best go about planning a successful event? Here are  tips to follow to ensure your gathering runs smoothly and your ability to network effectively and enjoy it.1. Determine your audience
First, you’ll need to map out whom you want to invite. It’s a good idea to identify what the goal of the event is. Are you looking to drive new business leads and invite your best prospects? Do you want to host a client appreciation event where new business isn’t the main objective? Or maybe you’re looking to bring together a variety of your contacts for the purpose of networking and providing cross-channel referrals.
Knowing what you want to get out of the time and effort you’ll spend—let alone the cost—is key to focusing in on who should be in attendance.
In addition, you’ll want to estimate how many people you expect to participate. Not only will that drive your venue selection—whether in-person or virtual, but also the format of the event.2. Set a date
Next, think about when you plan to host your event. One of the biggest considerations, and not always one in the forefront of your mind, should be your target audience’s schedule. Do you need to plan around typical work hours? Are you inviting attorneys who have demanding trial schedules you should be cognoscente of? You want most of your invitees to be able to accept, so be sure you make the gathering accessible in terms of timing.
Another way to go about picking a date is to plan your event around another, where your intended audience will already be. Perhaps there a large tradeshow that attracts the majority of the people you plan to invite, or even a smaller continuing education seminar. If you can piggyback off of a larger event, you may be able to increase the acceptance rate of your invitations.3. Pick a venue and format
After you have a solid idea of when you aim to hold your event, you’ll need to give some thought as to where and how you want it to take place. You should first decide what format will best serve your desired outcome for the event. Are you planning to host a small group and prefer a more formal, intimate dinner to foster serious conversations? Are you looking to throw a networking bash and expect a large gathering that would necessitate adequate space, food and drink? Would some form of entertainment enhance the event?
In addition, do you expect those who attend to stay for the duration of the event? Or can people come and go as they please, and spend enough time to interact with whom they want but not be tied to the time commitment of the whole event. Based upon your goals for the event and who you want to come out for it, you should have a rough idea for how the event will be set up to best serve those goals.
This decision, along with your preferred date, will then feed into venue selection. You’ll want to contact a variety of venues in your desired location, so you have the flexibility to compare costs and offerings. Find out what is available, what services are offered and of course at what price. If you’re hosting a party in an event-centric locale, such as Las Vegas, many times you can work with one dedicated event specialist to research multiple properties and different venues that are available. This may benefit you greatly by reducing the time and effort it takes to be sure you make the right selection.4. Stick to a Budget
Concurrently with your venue selection, you need to devise a budget and make every effort to stay within it. With so many options and add-ons, events can get expensive, quickly. Having a budget in place will help abate that issue.
There are also ways to be creative in keeping costs in line. For example, investigate the cost difference between paying on consumption versus paying per guest and having a predetermined headcount. Especially in the instance where guests will be in and out at their leisure, it may not be cost-effective to pay per head.
Similarly, it’s often wise to pre-select set choices for your guests, whether it be plated meals or beverage selections available at the bar. This can help to streamline service and avoids paying for the wasted product.
Event planners are used to dealing with budgets, so be upfront about how much you want to spend and where you may or may not have some leniency. They’ll be able to provide suggestions as to where to add and where to cut from your event so that you’re comfortable with the final cost.
If it seems the spend looks to exceed your budget, considering bringing on a co-host or sponsor, perhaps another firm you partner with or a particular vendor you’ve established a good working relationship with. Allowing another company to share in the cost, and also bring along their own contingent of guests, can benefit your firm in more ways than one. You’ll likely spend less and have a wider audience with which to network.5. Execution
Once you’ve completed the majority of the planning, it’s showtime. Always be sure to obtain a finalized banquet event order (BEO) from your venue. Review it carefully and check for any discrepancies before you sign. You can expect the BEO to be revised many times throughout the planning process so reading the finalized version carefully is essential.
It’s wise to select an on-site contact from your firm who is willing and able to handle any issues the day (or night) of the event. The last thing you want is the venue seeking out someone to ask questions of while everyone is ensconced in conversation and camaraderie. By designating someone beforehand, making the appropriate introductions and providing on-site contact information, you’ll avoid any disruptive or potentially embarrassing snafus during your event. You as the organizer may not always be on-site for the event itself, so pick someone reliable to help address any questions that may arise on the big day.
It can also be helpful to schedule a reminder to be sent to your guests with time and location details on the day of. Not only will it bring your event to the front of your guests’ minds, but it also provides the opportunity to uncover any last-minute cancellations.
It goes without saying after the past year or more of grappling with closures and restrictions that it’s important to continually monitor the safety protocols your intended venue has in place and any restrictions that you’ll need to heed when planning your event. It can vary from place to place, city to city, so be sure to gain a thorough understanding of what is (and is not) current allowed in terms of events. Informing your guests of any precautions is also an important factor so that they are assured that their health and safety are a priority and that they know what to expect when they arrive.
Planning an event, large or small, can be a big undertaking. Laying out a plan at the start can help guide you through the process. Attention to detail and careful consideration of small nuances will go a long way in creating the experience you’re striving for. Plus, at the end of it all, you’ll be able to watch—and maybe even enjoy!—all of your hard work come to fruition.