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Speed Networking: 3 or 20 Deep Connections For Your Event Participants?

Late in the afternoon one year at an SAP Inside Track #SITsv in Palo Alto, one of the participants taps me on the shoulder and says: “You know Mark, I love your event.” I am thinking “Well thanks :-)” and then “Oh, there is going to be a BUT” and here is what he said next: “Last year I walked away with a stack of probably 20 business cards. This year …” her raised his hand having just 3 lousy business cards in it. What happened?

Speed Networking made the difference. The year before right after the keynote we started off with a Speed Networking session and the year after we had so much content or just forgot.

Yes, it is similar to speed dating, and there will be some grumbling in the audience about it. But once you are over that little awkwardness, people engage and realize how powerful it is.

Here are the steps to run a successful Speed Networking session:

  • Ideally, you have a room with round tables that fit 5-8 people. If you don’t, just let people stand up and form a circle of 5-8 people.

  • You tell them the process:

    • Join 5-8 people that you don’t know.

    • Briefly introduce yourself. Why are you here?

    • Share one thing you hope to get out of this day.
      [If you do it later in the day: share what you have learned so far.]

    • Share a current challenge. [There may be someone who can help.]

  • You give them 10 minutes for every round. Give them a 2-minute warning to make sure everyone gets to speak.

  • Depending on how many people are in the room, how good they know each other already, and how much time you have, do 3-4 rounds.

Best time to do the Speed Networking session is right after your opening keynote on the first day and have a long coffee break right after. That way they can continue their interesting conversations. They can also reconnect with people from previous rounds or introduce people that need to talk: “You have this challenge and Lore is the woman that has a lot of expertise in that area, you two need to talk.”.

Bonus tip: If your audience is large and diverse, for the last round you can put topic signs in the middle of the tables. That way everyone can gather around and meet people from their biggest interest. Of course, hot topics may get mobbed. Split them up into smaller groups. Only do table signs for the last round, as you want to nurture cross topic pollination and serendipity.

Some say the best conversations at events are happening in the hallways. Speed Networking nudges everyone into brief hallway conversations with many people.  It gets the whole group into a new level of familiarity. That changes the dynamic for the whole event. People who are more familiar with each other are more active in discussions, more attentive, deepen their connections, engage and isn’t that the reason we are having the event in the first place?

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