It's hard enough to get certain developer types to mingle for even a little while without constantly checking their phones for the best time to make their exit.
It can be challenging to plan a networking event, but for a tech audience, finding the right venue to cultivate great conversation can make the difference between your event hashtag filling up social media and, well, an empty room. If you are considering a tech networking event for your group or just haven't had the most success in the past, here are some things to consider while searching for that perfect venue.
Know Who You're Trying to Please
Your typical tech audience will likely have a mixture of millennials and Gen-Xers whose off-hours interests may vary but social values are mostly the same: they loosen up best with a cold beverage in-hand and can make that connection with the right conversation starter.
A couple years ago, I planned a networking reception at an edgy gallery space in the Financial District of San Francisco (111 Minna) for a couple hundred software guys. Our audience ranged from developers to C-level business suits. They all came thirsty and with big appetites, so with the help of Off the Grid, we opened the bar and brought in a few food trucks to create the perfect tech networking environment.
The gallery was classy enough for the “suits,” but the sliders and beers kept the vibe accessible for everyone. Knowing the common ground of the mixed crowd helped to bring them together. Know your audience and try to meet them halfway, and if budget allows, offer an open bar.
Cast a Vision
For the gallery event, I could picture the scene in my mind: guys in t-shirts and sport coats in groups of 4 or 5 exchanging handshakes and laughing with their favorite beer in hand. With the goal clearly in mind, all that was left to do was to fill in the missing pieces.
Find a venue that fits your vision by deciding on atmosphere, size and whether it can accommodate any activities you have planned. If you are looking for a hip vibe, an office space or hotel ballroom might not be the best fit unless you can get a DJ and some uplighting. If you are planning for 50-100 guests, you might look into a partial buy-out at a local bar or pool hall where you occupy a smaller intimate space but with room to roam if your guests need a breather.
If you are hoping to bring in food trucks, a restaurant might not be the right fit (they often won't allow outside food), so try to create your own makeshift beer garden at a local park (but make sure to look into getting the right permits). With a clear vision, finding a venue to make a tech networking event come alive is the fun part.
Now, booking the Red Hot Chili Peppers or reserving a dunk tank might seem like a great idea, but remember to be realistic. Everyone has limited resources, a challenging group dynamic, and a budget. Find the right balance between planning the best tech networking reception in the history of tech events and executing a memorable event for your customers and partners that will leave them asking when the next event will be.
Consider the lead time of making reservations and the amount of time it takes to send out invitations and collect RSVPs when reserving a venue. Think about how your guests will arrive and whether your venue has convenient public transportation nearby or whether parking validation is needed.
Remember that details make the event, so bring in personal touches like customized napkins with your sponsors' logo or providing commemorative bottle openers that guests can take home. Finding the right venue that will work with you on special requests and help you stay within your budget will keep your feet on the ground and help make your tech networking event a success.