Speed networking - is it worth it?

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18th June 2009, 5 minute read

I walked into my first ever speed networking event slightly late. I was delayed by a road accident on the way and by the time I got there, everybody was already in full flow. Bemused, nervous and embarrassed, I watched and awaited my fate.

People were seated at tables facing each other in deep conversation. Everybody looked so confident and business like and I could feel my heart beating inside my chest as I scanned the room for exit options. Unfortunately, my scheming was interrupted by the shriek of a whistle signalling the end of the first 4 minute networking session. This was it; I was taken to sit opposite my first victim.

I had thought through what I would say: I would introduce myself and then add a 2 minute piece about our company and what we do. I didn’t, however, expect to be put on the spot immediately. Sympathetic to my nerves, my first contact agreed to go first.

Then my turn came. I tensed myself to speak, but before I could even say our company name the whistle was blown. I had to move on...I had let him fill the entire four minutes talking about himself!

Right, I thought, I’ll do better with the next one and actually get to speak.

To my pleasant surprise the next victim was very handsome, which caused different problems. I immediately went red, started to stutter and lost track of what I was saying! Gosh, this is not what I expected at all...why is it so hard?

When my handsome opponent spoke, he was so well practised that his spiel was almost robotic...not very natural or interesting at all. My heart sank!

As I moved down the row of people every 4 minutes, the ritual did seem to get easier. Everyone relaxed a bit, become more natural and took more interest in what the other person had to say, rather than worry about themselves. I even started to enjoy it myself.

The people that came across the best were the most natural and slower speaking ones. The hard sellers were off-putting and the too well rehearsed just un-engaging. But you do need to know what you want to say and remember why you are there to get business.

My advice, if you are going to give this networking style a go, would be:

  1. Think about what you are going to say, don’t rehearse it word for word, make it a quick and effective message about your business and the type of customers you are looking for
  2. Take your business cards to hand to each person
  3. Take a notepad to write details down about each contact you’ll struggle to remember them all afterwards
  4. Be genuine, smile, and if you are not interested, try not to look too bored!
  5. Don’t promise things that you don’t intend to follow up on later simply to be polite
  6. Think about what you are looking to get from the event and measure your success
  7. Follow up any opportunity or interesting connection as soon as possible afterwards. Strike while the contact is still hot.

So is it worth it?

Well, once you get past the initial shock, I found it a very good way to network.
You get to meet lots of people quickly. At normal networking events you usually only speak to the people that are closest to you. At a speed networking event, you get to meet everybody, whether you like or not!

And everybody knows why you are there, so you can just cut to the chase! The time is long enough for you to work out if the person will be of any benefit to you without having to engage in all the awkward small talk that goes with it.

Even if you think the person you are talking to will have no use for your product or service, they are likely to have a large number of contacts. Most business people have several hundred contacts and you never know where your business card might end up.

If there is a downside, it is that everybody is there to find customers, not suppliers, which is why, I think, a lot of promised contacts come to nothing afterwards. The leads that are most likely to be successful are those where there is an opportunity on both sides.

At the end of the day, I came away with a handful of leads and a purse full of business cards. We’ll see what they come to, but on balance I would say yes, give it a go!

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