Accelerating Business Relationships
Imagine that you hear a bell sound from across a restaurant. You assume that a diner's food is ready, or that someone has an unusually loud smartphone, so you go back to your meal.
When you hear the sound again, you look up and see people moving around in a circle, switching chairs, and shaking hands. This group is engaged in speed networking.
Speed networking is a way to make new business acquaintances quickly and effectively, and to form relationships that can benefit your career and lead to new opportunities.
In this article, we'll explore what speed networking is, discover how to plan a successful event, and find out how to build working relationships in this way.
What Is Speed Networking?
Speed networking can take several forms, but the aim is to meet as many people as possible, as quickly as you can.
Usually, people gather together in a room and spend a set period of time – usually just a few minutes – meeting one another to exchange information. The organizer will give a signal, and people will rotate and meet someone new.
This speed-networking concept is a blend of speed dating and business networking. However, instead of meeting potential suitors, you'll make valuable business contacts that can open doors to new opportunities in your career.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Speed Networking
Most of us find it challenging to walk up to a stranger and introduce ourselves in a memorable way, so we usually look for familiar faces in a crowded room. Speed networking is effective because it encourages you to talk to someone new, and get straight to the point without any uncomfortable small talk.
In other situations, you have to find time to chat and be in the right location. However, speed networking simplifies this stressful process, lowers the pressure, and encourages people to open up. Everyone in the room is there for the same reason – to meet and learn about one another.
In large organizations, it can be difficult for people to meet colleagues outside their team or department. However, speed networking can bring new groups together and encourage individuals to form meaningful, valuable connections. You can also use speed networking to connect like-minded people from different organizations.
Despite its benefits, speed networking can also have some disadvantages. For example, some people may only participate to promote their products or services, rather than to form meaningful relationships, participate in discussions, or share ideas.
Some people also believe that attending a speed-networking event will automatically increase the size of their network. However, you only sow the seeds of new relationships at these sessions, and you need to cultivate them afterwards for them to grow.
How to Run a Speed-Networking Event
The goal of a speed-networking event is to encourage attendees to meet as many new people as possible. So, if you're holding one, you should aim to attract a healthy number of participants, and help people feel comfortable.
Use the five tips below to ensure that your event runs as smoothly as possible.
1. Determine the Purpose of the Event
Start by identifying your goals and desired outcomes. Why do you want people to attend? What do you want them to achieve? What should happen afterwards? How will this affect how you run your event?
For example, you could focus on helping everyone meet as many people as possible. Or, you may want to maximize learning, with longer rotations and more time to connect. You could also set up small groups for networking, rather than one-on-one sessions.
2. Select the Format
The format of the event and the room setup will depend on how you intend people to meet. For example, if you want attendees to chat one-on-one, you can use long tables with chairs on both sides, or simply have two rows of seats facing one another. Here, people on one side move one place to their right or left at your signal, and those on the other side remain seated.
You could also use small-group speed networking. Here, you set up a series of small round tables, and put attendees into small groups. Each group sits at one of the tables, network, and then all the members except one move to a different table at the end of the rotation.
Another consideration is the length of the rotations. Do you want everyone to meet one another, or interact in smaller groups? You should also think about the group sizes, and the time it takes to move between each rotation (most last from four to six minutes).
3. Choose Your Invitees
How many people will you invite? This number depends on your purpose and the time you have available. For example, you'll need more than three hours for 50 people, if you want everyone to meet for at least four minutes. People may not want to spend this much time speed networking!
In general, groups of 16 to 30 people work best. Remember, you need an even number, so that nobody is left out.
4. Inform Your Guests
Prepare your guests, so that they can get as much out of the event as possible. Consider setting an agenda ahead of time, so that they understand the event's purpose and the length of the rotations, and they can "budget" their conversations accordingly.
It can also help to share a list of attendees, so that people can prepare meaningfully for the event, and they know how many business cards to bring. (Make sure that individuals are happy for you to share their information!)
5. Consider Other Logistics
There are a number of other things you should consider when you plan your event. First, think about the venue. Can your organization accommodate the group, or will you need to rent a private space?
Will you provide food? Keep in mind that it can be difficult for participants to juggle a plate and eat gracefully while meeting others, shaking hands and talking. So, consider reserving food service for the beginning or end of the event.
Plan to give a brief introduction at the start of the session, to explain the ground rules and discuss the agenda. You could also leave time at the end for open networking, so people can have follow-up discussions.
How to Be an All-Star Speed Networker
If you're attending a speed-networking event, you have to make the most of it as each rotation is so short. Here are four top tips to help you prepare, and present yourself in the best possible light.
1. Bring Business Cards
Aim to bring a business card for every person attending the event, so you can follow up with new connections afterward. You likely won't give a card to every attendee, but it's good to have spares.
2. Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
You'll need to introduce yourself quickly and efficiently at each rotation, so make sure your message is as brief and as compelling as possible. What impression do you want to give? What are the strongest points you can make to support this?
Use this information to craft your elevator pitch. Remember, the more you practice your speech, the smoother it will be, but make sure it doesn't sound too rehearsed.
You could also prepare some questions ahead of time. This helps you get the information you want from each person, and to know whether you should spend time following up with a new contact.
3. Take Brief Notes
At many speed-networking sessions, you'll meet a number of people at once. So, write brief notes at the end of each conversation to remind yourself about the person and your meeting.
4. Follow up
You'll likely have made an impression on countless people during the speed-networking event but, unless you follow up with them and develop your connections, you may not reap the potential benefits of these new relationships.
Take the business cards you collected and follow up with each person soon after the event. You could send them an email or schedule a meeting or dinner, and continue to build your relationship.
Speed networking is great for making a number of new contacts in a short time. It blends the benefits of meeting new people with the convenience of speed dating, and, in just a few minutes, you can determine who is most likely to help you advance in your career.
If you want to run a speed-networking event in your organization, start by identifying its purpose. Next, select the appropriate format for your session, send your invitations, and provide enough information for attendees to prepare for the event.
If you're planning to attend an event, take steps to make best use of the brief time you spend with each new contact. Bring a stack of business cards, prepare your elevator pitch, take notes on the people you meet, and follow up with your new contacts as soon as possible.