'An unclear invitation is a mortal sin'
Merlin Melles is called the networking queen of the Netherlands. She founded Founders Carbon Network (fCN): a networking organisation with 500 members, including top entrepreneurs such as Marcel Boekhoorn and Peer Swinkels. fCN represents all industries and organises events that attract more people than are invited – few organisations can say the same! Melles is a popular guest at events. She shares her experiences with event organisers: “Time has become increasingly scarce. Therefore, lack of clarity about starting times is a real no-go.”
Return on connection
In the eyes of Melles, an event with the opportunity for proper networking was one thing the Netherlands were lacking. That is why, she founded fCN in 2012. “At other clubs, you had to pay to see the invitee list. It was a complete shakedown, their only concerns were short-term – nobody invested in a good programme. I aim for a reliable network. Not one top entrepreneur wants to be part of a club consisting of ‘takers’. The business case at fCN is the return on connection.”
Hygiene factors for invitations
Every month, Melles receives numerous invitations. In her opinion, the best invitations come from the Big Improvement Day (PR agency Winkelman & Van Hessen) and Porsche Amsterdam. A good invitation, according to her, is effective when all information is presented in a clear, yet inviting way. “Every year, we send about invitations to fifty to sixty events, in which we place a clear call-to-action. I very rarely see other invitations follow these guidelines. If they lack the necessary information, you’re stressing your invitee. It will also cost you a full FTE to answer unnecessarily questions. Complete invitations save organisations time, and thus money. In addition, it indicates you consider the invitee, which shows respect.”
The networking queen shares a number of other ‘hygiene factors’. According to her, the following matters should be taken into account for each and every event invitation:
- Mention the date, location and concept of the event in the subject line
- Share the parking possibilities and tell how far away the parking location is from the event location
- Be clear about what is expected from the invitees: how many people are invited and at which moments the attendees must be present
- Present possibilities for public transportation
- Share different routes to the event if possible
- Give an overview of the programme
- Inform invitees about meals, inside or outside location, temperature, etc. You don't want your attendees standing outside, cold and hungry
- Be clear about the dress code, formal or casual, black tie, etc.
Starting times and guest lists are a must
Melles stresses that starting times must be clearly communicated. “Until when can I enter the venue? Nowadays, time is very scarce. If you are not in the mood for small talk in advance, you should be able to skip the pre-programme and enter the venue when the official program starts.” Moreover, it should be clear who else will attend. In many cases, this information is not available. “This stands in the way of efficient networking, which is undesirable. People want to spend their scarce time on qualitative events. An invitee list alone is not sufficient: if I were to invite the Queen to my event – and put her on the list of invitees, I would still have no guarantee she would actually attend the event. Also inform your guest how many people are expected. At an event with 10 people, the absence of a popular guest will be noticed more quickly than at an event with 300 attendees.”
Frustrations with event registration
The fCN founder too often encounters a messy registration process. “If I am allowed to bring a guest, I would like to be able to leave his or her email address and/or phone number for their ticket and invoice. This is not always possible. The opportunity to ask questions is seldomly provided, since invitations are often sent from a no-reply email address. That is harmful for the relationship. Make sure the email sender address is actually managed. I also find it quite annoying when questions concerning food allergies are asked after the registration process is completed. Ask everything at once, please.”
According to Melles, unnecessary reminders are an absolute mortal sin. “Getting a reminder to registrate after the registration is a faux pas.” Melles thinks it is disturbing to receive unnecessary emails due to not processing registration data. “Only send – preferably automatic – emails to the non-respondents. Also, send out your reminders in time. A ‘See you tomorrow’ email is also very important. Invitees receive around one hundred emails per day and have overflowing schedules. Try to help them a bit.”
At the actual event, still a lot can go wrong, according to Melles. “Do not serve the dessert too late. In doing so, you leave your attendees feeling uneasy. You should never let you attendees pay the price for mistakes in your planning. You are wasting someone’s while decreasing your reliability. In case you organise an event on a more distant location, make sure to arrange chauffeurs or inform your guests about nearby hotels in advance.”
Melles’ advice can be summarized in a single sentence: service your attendees as much as possible. Keep their perspective in mind when setting up the invitation, and streamline the registration process. During the event, be considerate your attendees’ valuable time. The lack of information and communication can particularly be considered mortal sins. If you communicate clearly and concretely with your attendees, your event will be solid as a rock.