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Networking can be more than bad wine in a plastic tumbler

Rough Agenda founder Kelvin Newman has a bad taste in his mouth 

Like lots of good ideas over the years, our conference [BrightonSEO] started out in the pub; we could hire the room for not much money. There was a bar serving beer and it wasn’t anywhere near as daunting when we were starting out as hiring a proper venue.

Partially, because of this origin story we’ve always prided ourselves on our events parties and networking. A proportion of people were attending the conference just for the parties. That always felt like we were doing a good job. But increasingly it felt like we were ignoring part of audience, and doing them a disservice by assuming everyone wanted alcohol.

A study by the NHS in published in 2018 found just under 30% of 16-24-year-olds are teetotal. This has been quite a big increase over previous generations. Of course, we can make sure we have some more interesting non-alcoholic drink options on offer. Often the networking provision is ‘book a room and serve some wine’. Suddenly the warm white wine served up in a plastic tumbler is less likely to cut the mustard, if it ever did.

We’ve tried to roll other networking opportunities into our event programme that work without the booze. There’s the usual roundtable and discussion panels lots of events have. We’ve found quite a lot of success with some less conventional options.

Our event takes place right on the beach in Brighton. It’s a great location but, let’s be honest, not the cleanest beach. So, we’ve partnered with the Charity Surfers Against Sewage to arrange a pre-event beach clean. Last time 50 attendees signed up, we’re hoping for even more next time round.

That’s not the only pre-event activity that’s been going down with our attendees. A regular attendee has been organising an informal group 5k morning jog that gets a healthy uptake. It inspired us to arrange an attendee Yoga session. We’re lucky to have the impressive observation tower the i360, which is a great location for Yoga, but I think it’s an option for lots of events.

I’m gutted that I’m usually too busy to participate in these fringe elements of the conference, so I’ve taken to organising industry mountain biking days at great venues like Bike Park Wales. A perfect excuse to get out of the office. And I’ve seen the business opportunities coming out of the event in the attendee WhatsApp group.

There’s still plenty of love out there for a good old fashioned party, but I think more and more events will be working more sporty and outdoorsy elements into their programme.