How to Organise, Facilitate or Participate in a Speed Networking Event
Organised Speed Networking Events occur all over the world every day. In this comprehensive report we give you the inside secrets to making the most of the opportunity, be it as a Participant, Organiser or Facilitator.
Why Speed Networking is important
Despite the proliferation of Online Networking and Business Referral sites like LinkedIn, Opportunity and Referral Key, face to face networking is still such a powerful tool to help grow a business or a career. It’s no wonder that there are still so many Speed Networking events run every day around the world
That instant strong connection you can make with someone. That feeling when you “click” with them and get on well. It just doesn’t happen in the online world. Anyone can create a shining profile and photo shopped image for their online avatar, but nothing beats a few minutes chatting face to face. There’s also that underlying “social” aspect of a room full of eager people ready to chat.
Another aspect that you should remember as both a participant, organiser or facilitator, is that the structure of Speed Networking Events allows more introverted people to fully participate. They have the permission and means to chat with a stranger, something they try and avoid in the outside world. They also know, that the interaction has a boundary, a time limit. They will not be stuck with this person for longer than a few minutes, or be in the situation of not knowing what to say next. Outgoing, extroverted people often don’t understand just how difficult it is for some people.
My Background in Speed Networking
Before we go into specifics of Speed Networking, I should give you some background about my experiences with this form of Networking.
Over the last 20 years I’ve attended many Speed Networking Events as a Participant and I know precisely how they can help grow a business or a career. I’ve developed several techniques that I always use to develop strong connections and possibilities at these events that I will share with you.
I’ve also helped several organisations organise speed networking events and I’ve personally facilitated almost 100 separate events, throughout Australia, New Zealand and in Hong Kong. I’ll be personally running another 20 events this year (2019) around Australia for my major client.
Benefits of Speed Networking
For Individuals –
If you are looking for a job, looking for sales prospects, career advice, joint venture partners, a mentor or just to raise your profile within an industry, Speed Networking can make that happen.
For Conference Organisers, Association CEO, Alumni Group coordinator etc –
Networking is high on the “wants list” of most members and delegates who attend large events. It’s not just the big presentations up on stage that’s important to them, it’s the “one on one” chats, the quick connections they make.
Offering a formal Speed Networking event really ticks that button. It involves everyone who wants to take part, but importantly it also sets up ongoing networking throughout the event. Suddenly, each delegate has met a large number of other delegates and can continue that conversation if they want to.
For Speakers, Emcee’s and Facilitators –
Running a Speed Networking Event is a great skill to have and also a good selling point in your service offering. It might be the difference between a client choosing you to MC their event and someone else! They are not difficult to run, but we do have a few tips and techniques later in the article to make your job easier.
Speed Networking for Participants
Speed Networking is different to ordinary Networking!
What’s great about structured Speed Networking events is that everyone is there for the same basic reason. Therefore, you can eliminate some of the process that you would normally do in a mingling or casual encounter situation. There’s little reason for small talk or building rapport before getting into the business end.
Some people waste a lot of their limited time failing to adapt to the specific framework.
How to Prepare for a Speed Networking Event
Decide what you want to get out of it. Have a good think before the event and try and pinpoint what you actually hope to achieve.
- Are you looking for a joint venture partner, a distributor, a mentor, a client or new connections?
- Is their a specific person or person in a particular role you would like to meet?
Being more specific about the outcome you desire will help make it happen.
Have plenty of Business Cards
I’m always amazed at Speed Networking Events that some people don’t come prepared with plenty of cards. You see them fumbling around for paper and pen or spelling out their name so hopefully people can record it.
With online business card printing services so cheap and efficient, I know some people who make a specific business card just for Networking Events. You might want to include more links to your different online profiles or actually detail what you are looking for.
Give everyone you meet 2 cards. A little trick I use is to give each person more than 1 card. “This one is for you,” then pull out another and say “and you might know someone who needs this!” People always take the extras and they may meet someone you don’t that would appreciate your details.
Have an Online Profile ready.
If you are on LinkedIn or one of the other Online Networking sites make sure you mention that. If you have time, the “Find Nearby” can be used. We discus that later in the article.
Have an interesting “Elevator Speech” Ready
The classic approach to the 30 – 60 second Elevator Speech is – Who you are, What you do and What you would like to do.
I like to approach it as a mini presentation. If I’m writing a speech or an opening for a Conference I like to start with a Grabber. (You can read the article on writing a great opening Speech here.)
As outlined in that article, my speech “grabbers” include, an interesting fact, a question or a bold statement.
In an Elevator speech I use the same technique but shortened considerably. I like to intrigue and elicit further questions.
For Example … “and what do you do Tim? “
“I help people make more money.”
“I stop people losing their houses.”
“I guarantee to generate 10 x the amount of traffic to your website as you’re currently getting.”
“I can prevent hackers shutting down your business.”
This “grabber” can be followed by a short pause as the information sinks in and interest is raised and then you can move into more detail.
In a more casual situation, with more time, the opening line should actually prompt them to ask.
“Oh that sounds interesting, how do you do that?”
So think about the benefit that you deliver and try and capture that in a intriguing statement.
“I’m the Master at dealing with difficult customers.”
Have some interesting questions ready to ask the people you meet.
This is an important key element that some people also sometimes neglect. They focus too much on selling themselves, practising the elevator speech and making themselves seem interesting.
- Be interested in the other person
- Find out why they came to the event
- Ask what their big challenge is
- Ask who is their ideal client or the connection they are hoping for.
Remember, you might be able to make that happen!
Have some additional material ready.
A One Sheet, a report, a pamphlet, a memory stick etc. If you leave more tangible proof in their hands, you have more chance of being remembered.
Make notes as soon as you can after the event.
- Who were the important contacts?
- What did talk about?
- How can you help them?
- What did you promise to send them?
Getting through the Speed Networking is just the first step. You must follow up.
- Don’t feel guilty about it or wait for them to make contact.
- Remind people where you met.
- Connect via LinkedIn etc. If they are ever going to accept an invitation it’s right now.
- If you can add value, do so. “Here is an article you might find interesting.” “Here’s the name of the book I mentioned” etc.
Speed Networking for Event Organisers & Facilitators
I’ve clumped these two sections together because they are closely related together and it’s good for both organisers and facilitators/MC’s to understand both sides.
There are several different ways that you can put a Speed Networking session together.
With smaller groups sometimes a more structured approach is suitable, based on Speed Dating.
Half the Participants are seated at a ring or horseshoe of tables and the other half move from person to person in turn, spending the allocated time with each.
While you do guarantee that delegates will meet at least half the people attending, the downside to this approach is that you need to have a dedicated space, it has to be set up correctly and it takes longer than you think.
I’ve been to several of these events where they have run way over time, throwing the whole larger conference schedule out of whack.
There are other formal approaches that also work with smaller groups that rely on matching people up and organising slots of time when they get together. Once again you need to organise numbered tables and spaces.
There are both software packages / apps that do this and there are also dedicated facilitators and companies who will come in and organise sessions.
This often involves delegates answering online questions, which are then mapped out and matched up with other delegates. Different solutions also provide – Messaging, Follow Up etc.
Some Examples of Software Solutions for Speed Networking
Please Note – This field is experiencing rapid growth with new apps and providers appearing almost monthly. When we first wrote about the field a couple of years ago there were only one or two people doing it. Here are a few examples.
Even Tinder has developed a Speed Networking version of its Dating App.
As well as dedicated Speed networking Apps, many of the larger well established Conference Event Apps are starting to add a Speed Networking Module to their offerings.
While these apps are brilliant in many ways, I still think there is great value in a low tech approach. They can be organised very easily and quickly, there is practically no set up involved or associated costs with software, licensing etc.
They are also very flexible in the space they use. The can be run in the main Plenary room or even a large empty space. There should be room to get up and move about, so some lecture theatre settings are not appropriate. In these situations the foyer space adjoining is usually adequate for the same numbers.
Likewise the timing is flexible. I think 40-45 minutes is a good length for the whole session. With fewer people you can extend the length of each round. With more people, trim them down to get more interaction happening.
And please remember this is a great “fill in” activity. If a Speaker doesn’t show up or the CEO is running late, you can easily move into a session of this while you reshuffle the program.
The one thing you do need is an adequate sound system for the space and numbers involved and someone to run the session.
I can’t emphasis the importance of the sound system enough. You will need it to – enthuse the participants, set up the session, run the session, wrap up the session and then encourage further networking.
I ran some very prestigious B2B networking events for several years throughout South East Asia and Australia in the Mining, Oil & Gas and Telecoms areas. But I had to fight with the organisers each time to ensure they spent a little extra on a good sound system to ensure the opening night networking event was a success. These were often held in a foyer area, with drinks and finger food before a sit down dinner.
Let’s look at those 5 distinct tasks that the MC or Networking Facilitator should do along side the Event Organiser.
Enthuse people about it.
If you are having a Networking Session, let people know in advance. It should be listed in the Agenda & Pre Publicity. This allows people to prepare for it.
The MC should also get people thinking about some of the key points we mentioned at the start.
How the value from the conference is not just from the speakers on the platform, but maybe from the person they are going to meet during the session.
How they should think about what they are going to say to people.
Think about Who they would like to meet.
Get their business cards out etc
The more prepared they are, the more they will get out of the event and you will get great feedback.
Set up the session
Each session you run will be a little bit different, but here is a Sample Script.
“Ladies and Gentlemen in a few moments time we are going to begin our Famous Speed Networking Session.
I will be asking you in a moment, to stand up, to turn around and introduce yourself to someone you do not know!
You will have about One Minute to do this!
Tell them – who you are, where you work, what you’re working on, and maybe what your big challenge is at the moment. You might like to tell them who you would like to meet at this event or who your ideal client is.
And then give them a chance to talk. You’ll have about a minute each, so make sure you give them some time!
At the end of the time I’ll ring this BELL and that is your cue to finish up the conversation and talk to someone else.
We’ve got about 20 minutes for the session, so plenty of opportunity to meet some interesting people!”
During the Speed Network Session
Here are a few extra tips for running the Session.
Give them a bit more time in the first few rounds.
I explain in the instructions that I will give them 1 minute each. I actually give about 30 seconds extra each in the first few rounds. Sometimes even longer. People take a while to get up to speed and this eases them into the faster rounds. Speeding up the rounds also adds to the energy level in the room, the Buzz, and this is a good thing.
You can also alter the time slightly in the last couple of rounds, so you can finish exactly on time.
I use the Timer Function on my iPhone, set to Vibrate. Once that goes off I ring a Bell into the microphone to end the round. I always take my own Bell to these events to guarantee I have one. I think the visual element of you standing there ringing a bell also adds to the control element.
I try and keep instructions during the session to a minimum. Let them focus on what they are doing and don’t distract them too much.
The one thing I do sometimes say is ..
“If you can’t find someone all by themselves to talk to, just break into another conversation.”
One thing you should also watch for is newcomers arriving into the room after you have started. You can talk to them individually or make an announcement every now and then.
You should be flexible, acting as a kind of “puppet master.” If you see someone looking lost, direct them towards another single person. “Why don’t you talk to them over there?” etc.
The first time you run one of these events you will be surprised at just how noisy it gets once the Speed Networking is under way.
If you are lucky enough to have a Sound Technician, ask him to give you lots of volume on the microphone. You will also always get more punch from a handheld microphone rather than a lectern or Lapel/Lavaliere microphone.
You can also prompt him to give you a bit more volume when it comes time to end the session, something we will discuss in a moment.
Wrapping up a Speed Networking Session
First point… it takes longer than you think!
The more successful the session, the harder it is to stop them. They want to keep meeting new people or chatting to the person they are with. So give yourself 3-4 minutes at least to quiet them down and direct them back to their seats or to the next activity what ever it is.
Another subtle technique is to mention the Keynote Speech or what ever is coming up next and mention that you don’t want to have to cut into their time. People often see
Also mention that there will be plenty of time for Networking as you go through the rest of the event. This leads us nicely into the last points I want to make..
Set up the importance of Their Cooperation
I always thank the delegates for their participation and cooperation in the activity and thank them for helping us keep to time.
This is another subtle way to win them over to your side. Give positive reinforcement and they will be more likely to help you keep things on time through the rest of the event.
Set up further Networking
Also remind them that the Networking doesn’t need to finish there.
“Just because you got through the last 30 minutes talking to strangers doesn’t mean you don’t have to talk to anyone else for the whole three days! Please feel free to introduce yourself to anyone who is here, be it Speaker, Exhibitor or Delegate.”
Your client will love you saying this, as will any exhibitors and the delegates who really want to network, have been given the green light to do so.
I hope we have covered the major reasons why holding a Speed Networking Event is important, how you don’t really need a fancy web app to run an effective one and given tips to both Participants, Organisers and Facilitators.