My issues with networking events – even sexy ones

8 Jan

IMG_9674I have had, shall we say, “issues” with the popular Downtown brand Sexy Networking. But last year I started to feel a little more comfortable with it, especially after a fantastic event at Revoluçion de Cuba.

Judging the success of an event is quite simple. Did enough people come along? And did they have a good time?

Beyond that, the nuances and measurements can be quite complex. Anyone in any business will tell you that the capacity to surprise and be different is what gives any kind of business an edge. And so it is with Downtown events.

I’ll admit that I have found the name and brand behind ‘sexy networking’ tricky. Without even explaining to my wife and kids that I’m going to an event where you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s full of people randomly getting off with each other. Obviously that isn’t what it is all about. Far from it.

So I say without fear or favour that the last sexy networking event was superb. I had the opportunity to meet a good proportion of the 200 or so who had pre-registered. There was an array of new faces and really interesting businesses who I had not had the chance to meet before. The buzz in the room was incredible. My colleagues Frank McKenna and Lucy Cort were introducing people to one another, asking who they were interested in meeting and brokering a handshake.

When we met with a delegation of Australian MPs from the parliament of Victoria last summer, the ‘sexy networking’ brand caught their attention and was duly noted in their report. It’s also the brand that many other people in business can’t get past.

IMG_9680But if Downtown was only about this then we’d have a problem. In the last few months we’ve met with ministers, Lords, chief executives of local authorities and heads of major public sector organisations who seek to engage with the private sector. We have built up a major campaign with a member company on the subject of poor behavior by the banks. Our conferences and events have had a high level of debate and engagement. We’re only able to do this because we listen to all levels of business. We are getting an understanding of what all kinds of businesses want, need and how they think about the world.

So many events are a bit of this and a bit of that. But precisely because we have so much else besides, rather proves the point that there isn’t a one-size fits all approach for business events. But this is why I believe so much in constant innovation. Always thinking carefully about what works, not what has always been the way of doing things. At a ‘sexy networking’ event last year I was confronted by a middle-aged bank manager who arrived, looked around, asked me where all the millionaires were and left. He shouldn’t have been there. Part of what we do as an organisation is to put people together, who we know will be able to do business together. We’re getting a good idea about what works, what doesn’t, who to invite to what, what people want, and how people want to interact.

But sexy is also the antithesis of all those other things you’d associate with business events – stuffy, boring, staid and predictable.

My actual main problem is with the word ‘networking’. I think it has been overused to the point of it now becoming meaningless. I hardly ever use it to describe what we do, because it just conjurs up such negative imagery. It has such a coldness about it. The problem is, I just can’t immediately think of a better one.

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One Response to “My issues with networking events – even sexy ones”

  1. andrewthorp (@andrewthorp) January 8, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    Nice post Michael. I guess your bank manager chap was approaching networking with a transactional mind-set. In my experience it’s far better to take an interest in people, with no pre-conceived notion of what you might gain. I’m not a big fan of being goal-focused in these situations – just be curious! Happy New Year to you.

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