Being a Belfast Photographer means that i need to continually network with those in the community in which i work. Thankfully in Northern Ireland there is no shortage of events that are either run by the various councils, public institutions or private companies. They usually take the same form of lukewarm tea, stale sandwiches and a few too many suits.
The idea for the Belfast Jam came around after a colleague of mine from Firewalking Ireland (Stephen Brown) attended Dubnet in Dublin. Dubnet is a free to attend networking event in the heart of Dublin. He found the informal atmosphere and relaxed delegates made for a more natural networking environment.
Stephen spoke to me with great enthusiasm about Dubnet and he quickly put the idea out that we organise our own event styled around Dubnet. We quickly come up with the name Belfast Jam. We wanted it to be networking without the work.
Our first big challenge would be to find a venue. We approached Michael in the now super popular Hudson Bar off Gresham Street in Belfast. They were only too keen to host our event after we said we could bring up to 100 guests. We got the website set up shortly after our meeting in the Hudson as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts. To get guests to come along to our inaugural event we had to start creating a bit of buzz. Networking in such a small city such as Belfast means you end up meeting the same people over and over on the circuit. With the Belfast Jam we wanted new people to get involved, we wanted those who hated networking to come along and we wanted to make them feel at ease at an event where normally they would feel out of place.
We also set a few rules out that every Belfast Jam must meet. We the organisers can not directly profit from creating an event, in short we are not getting paid to organise the Jams. Those involved are encouraged to either donate time to help out or donate prizes. For example i donated £100 of my time as a draw prize, Barry Flood donated name badges for the guests, The Hudson (as well as provide a venue) put on some finger food and Ciaran McCallion from Signal Signs donated pop up banners
Another aspect of the Belfast Jam is that we wanted guest speakers. We asked our guest list when the applied via the website to attend the Belfast Jam if they would like to speak. We had several requests from guests who wanted to speak and picked four. The topics were not to be related to the speakers business and they would have 5 minutes to talk on their chosen topic with an optional 5 minutes for questions. The speakers conversation topics would not be revealed until the day of the Belfast Jam. This helped create a sense of mystery and further encouraged people to sign up.
What we of ultimately wanted to happen was for people to meet, talk, share stories and ideas and do business with each other. We are already starting to hear of stories of people connecting because of our event. We aim to hold another Belfast Jam in The Hudson Bar at the end of June. Check out the Belfast Jam website for more information.