Dana Filek-Gibson rubs elbows with Saigon’s well-connected professionals. Photos by Vinh Dao. Models: Tin Mai, Kendra Bernard

By definition, networking is a strange concept. On any given weeknight, a group of people are herded into a room for two hours of finger food, polite conversation and complimentary wine. Business cards change hands. Awkward introductions ensue. Everyone talks about their holidays or pet projects or current feelings on the weather. And at the end of the night, when all the salmon canapes and miniature bruschettas have gone, you may walk away with a stack of names, emails and phone numbers but often few meaningful connections.

While this may not be a ringing endorsement of networking as a whole, Saigon is blessed with a handful of good opportunities to meet new people. From professional suit-and-tie affairs to dressed down, casual meetups, here are five of Saigon’s best networking events to attend in the new year.

CanCham Breakfast Club

For nearly three years now, the folks of CanCham have organised their monthly Breakfast Club, a two-hour networking event complete with several action-packed presentations and a hearty buffet breakfast. The Hour of Power, as it’s known, showcases five different speakers, each of whom has five minutes to give an informative, no-frills presentation on anything from corporate social responsibility to personal goals, health and lifestyle to website content and social networking. All topics are screened beforehand to ensure that only the best are chosen. After each presentation, speakers hold a quick Q&A session before moving on to the next presenter. The Breakfast Club usually draws about 30 guests a month and there are ample opportunities to get to know your fellow guests both before and after the Hour of Power. Entry to the event costs VND 220,000 for CanCham members and VND 270,000 for non-members. The Breakfast Club takes place at Jaspas, 33 Dong Khoi, D1. For more information, visit  CanChamVietnam.org.

M2 Marketing & Media Network

M2 may be new to the city’s networking scene but its events have certainly picked up steam since they began in April 2014, attracting attention from media, marketing, advertising and digital professionals across town. Organised by regional company Asia Media Partners, these monthly meet-ups include three short presentations on a range of different marketing- and media-related topics, often focusing on digital and online content. M2 usually draws high-profile speakers from both local and regional companies as well as around 75 to 80 attendees, though events can reach up to 100 participants. Locations vary depending upon the event, but all include finger foods and at least one complimentary drink. Tickets cost VND 250,000 in advance and VND 150,000 for students, or VND 350,000 at the door. Thanks to the group’s success, M2 also has plans to expand across Asia in 2015, potentially holding events in Singapore and Shanghai as well as HCMC. For more information, visit Facebook.com/M2Events or register for the next M2 at VietnamBusiness.tv.

Network Girls HCMC

A half-step between business networking and a casual meet-up, Network Girls HCMC has been going strong since 2006 and organises regular gatherings for women in Saigon of all backgrounds. Each month, the group alternates between a cocktail hour and a breakfast event, where everyone from seasoned expats to newcomers to local Vietnamese are welcome to join. Thanks to its casual environment, Network Girls is a great place to make both personal and professional contacts; while there are no official presentations, connections at NWG tend to be more natural, taking some of the stiff business card collecting out of networking. Expect to find anywhere from 20 to 60 women at each NWG meet-up. Entry fees also alternate between VND 250,000 for breakfast and VND 500,000 for evening events, both of which include complimentary food and drink. The group chooses different locations around the city for each event. For more information, visit Facebook.com/groups/NetworkGirlsHCMC or send an email to networkgirlshcmc@gmail.com.

Spam Cham

On the last Wednesday of every month, the ground floor of Jaspas on Dong Khoi is overflowing with attendees of Spam Cham, easily one of Saigon’s best-value social events. For a flat VND 200,000, entrants can enjoy finger foods and free flow drinks from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. It’s best to bring a buddy, as many of Spam Cham’s regular crowd are already familiar with one another and so it can be tricky to break the ice on your own. Be sure to invest in a few raffle tickets, too, as some quality prizes are available at each meet-up, including a monster meat tray and other goodies. All proceeds from the raffle support local charity Loreto Vietnam. Jaspas is located at 33 Dong Khoi, D1. For more information and monthly updates, visit Spam Cham’s Facebook group.

Create Your Own!

While there are plenty of regular industry hangouts in Saigon, networking can mean different things to different people. If small talk and hawking business cards is not for you, try putting together your own regular meet-up. Two years ago, hard-pressed to find a networking event that suited his interests, one Saigon resident began hosting a weekly brunch to bring together expat entrepreneurs living and working in Saigon.

“Most of us do business primarily online,” explains the brunch’s organiser, Taylor Pearson, a business, online marketing and digital media consultant, “so living somewhere like Ho Chi Minh where there’s a rich history and culture, intelligent and hard-working locals and a growing community of likeminded entrepreneurs is a slam dunk.”

Since then, Pearson has sought to create a casual meet-up where people in the start-up world can connect not only on a professional level but also as friends, talking tech and entrepreneurship but also travel and lifestyle. Today, the brunch – which takes place every Sunday at noon – has grown to around 20 to 25 attendees each week. Anyone involved in tech or entrepreneurship is welcome to join. Because the group changes venues often, it’s wise to taylor@taylorpearson.me for more information.