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Professional Networking: Speed Networking - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Speed Networking

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Speed Networking

Speed networking seems to have hit its peak about ten years ago, but a search on event-sharing sites such as Eventbrite reveals that speed networking is still a thing. Based loosely on the concept of speed dating, participants are matched with one another either arbitrarily or based on pre-filled questionnaires. They are given a few minutes to trade business cards and to get to know one another before a timer expires and they move along to their next potential contact.

The structures of these networking events vary, but they typically fall into three models: the round-robin, the assigned pairs, and the assigned groups.

In the round robin, participants are arranged in circles, the inner circle facing the outer circle. When the timer begins, people introduce themselves to whomever they are facing, trade info, and ask a few questions of one another. Sometimes the questions are provided by event organizers and listed on info cards; other times participants simply ask questions they’ve prepared themselves. When time is up, participants in one of the circles move a few chairs away, where the process is repeated.

In the assigned pairs, a little more prep work is required of the organizers. When networkers RSVP for the event, they send in a completed survey with basic information about their profession, plus what kind of contacts they’re looking for or what kind of services they offer. Based on their responses, organizers make a schedule for each participant, so they meet ten (or so) other people most likely to have something in common, and possibly a few people with whom they have very little in common, depending on people who comprise the group.

The assigned groups model can be like either the round robin or the pairs, or a combination of both. Participants are assigned to group tables of ten or so people, and they spend the whole hour getting acquainted with just the people at their table. This method of speed networking can be great for getting a sense for others’ group personalities, but it can also be limiting for people who tend not to grab attention in group settings. Some amount of facilitation for some one-on-one contact can help with this limitation, perhaps with a few small-group (or pairs) questions at each table, leading to larger group sharing.

Pitfalls are obvious. You can’t really get to know anyone in five intense minutes of questions and answers, and meeting ten people in one hour makes it incredibly difficult to retain any information you get about anyone. Additionally, in a setting where you might meet ten people, it’s more than likely many of them will be people you have very little in common with. At a general mixer, this is less likely to happen, since people are likely to drift past conversations with little relevance to them and stick (for longer chats) with conversations more in line with what they’re looking for.

On the other hand, we have touted the value in your professional network of loose connections. A graphic artist and a photovoltaic technician may seem to have little use for a professional connection, but the graphic artist already has a ton of photographers, videographers, and marketers in his network. How many photovoltaic techs will he have? There is value in being the only whatever-you-are in someone else’s web.

At a one-hour event, speed networkers are likely to meet around ten new contacts. We continue to believe that good networking is primarily not about the size of your network, but the quality of your contacts. Yet even with this conceptual framework, there is room for casting a wide net if one is willing to do the prudent follow-up and maintenance. In our next speed networking article, we’ll offer pointers for getting (and giving) the most at such networking events.


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