How to Get the Most Out of a Speed Networking Event

Speed networking has to be one of the coolest trends for business events in recent years. It’s not only good for experienced networkers, but it’s the best thing to happen to nervous networkers. Even if you have no clue what to do at a networking event, you can walk away from a speed networking event with dozens of connects.

If you’re not familiar with speed networking, it’s an event format that allows you to meet a lot of folks in a fixed amount of time (usually 30-90 minutes). You usually have two or three minutes to talk to your networking partner and then a whistle blows and it’s time to switch.

Although the way speed networking is handled varies from event to event, the following rules always apply:

  • An even number of rows of seats are arranged a couple feet apart face to face.
  • You have a specified amount of time to make a connection with the person you’re sitting across from.
  • When the time is up, one row of people get up and move over one seat so everyone is facing a new partner.
  • This continues until the end of speed networking.

For some events, speed networking is just one of many activities on the agenda. In other cases, the speed networking is the primary focus of the event with some open networking before and after the speed networking segment.

Since speed networking is different from traditional networking, it has its own set of benefits as well as its own set of challenges. Again, the big benefit is that you’re guaranteed to meet more people than you typically would using traditional networking during the same amount of time. The big challenge is that since everyone will walk away from the event with a lot of connections, it’s a little more difficult to stand out. But here are some things that you can do to make the most out of a speed networking event.

Bring enough business cards:

My rule is 20 business cards per hour of speed networking plus an extra ten per hour of open networking. Why so many? You’ll use a lot of cards during the speed networking portion of the event but you may meet someone during speed networking that might introduce you to other people after the speed networking is over. This happens to me practically every time I’ve done speed networking.

Watch your fluids:

Your mouth will get dry typically around the 45 minute mark so it’s good to have a glass or bottle of water with you. I recommend water because it’s colorless (in case it spills), not carbonated (no embarrassing belching) and non-alcoholic (self-explanatory). Gum is also a great way to prevent your mouth from drying out and has the added advantage of freshening your breath.

I also highly recommend a trip to the restroom right before the speed networking begins. You don’t want to miss making a connection because you needed to take a bathroom break.

Stay away from people you know:

The purpose of speed networking (and networking in general) is to meet new people. I recently attended an event with two of my best friends and we each sat apart from each other so that we wouldn’t end up paired up with each other during the event. If you can, find out before you sit down how people will move so that you can ensure that you’ll be talking to people you don’t already know.

Speak loudly:

When you have conversations going on three inches away on both sides of you, it can be hard to hear your partner so speak loudly and clearly. Lean in if you have to and let the other person know if you can’t hear them.

Stick around until the very end:

The event I recently went to had open networking both before and after the speed networking. I participated in both of these sessions but if I could choose only one, it would be the session afterwards. Networking beforehand helps you meet some of the people in the room so you can make recommendations to people during the event. But during the speed networking portion, you’ll meet people that you’ll want to follow up with afterwards and you might want to introduce some of the people you met during the speed networking portion to each other.

Many people leave these events early but I’ve found that the end of the event is when I make the best connections. Everyone is loosened up and more approachable and the people that are left tend to be more serious about making connections – not that the folks who leave aren’t, but most of the people that are uncomfortable or attended the event because they were told to or just curious, will leave right after the main program.

Focus on helping other people:

Any experienced networker with a perfected elevator speech sounds somewhat interesting to most of the people they meet. But the people that really stand out are the ones that can help us. I was impressed with the number of people at this recent event that started telling me of people that could help me before I was able to offer my help to them. I met people that were there looking for work that were more concerned about what I did than they were about telling me about the kind of work they were looking for. It sounds backwards, but I suspect they’ll get a lot more people interested in helping them because they were so eager to help others.

If you’re interested in networking and have a chance to give speed networking a try, go for it. It’s an interesting experience and I’m sure you won’t regret it. This is the perfect event to cut your teeth on if you’re at all reluctant about networking events.

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