Launch yourself into a new circle of people waiting to talk to you!
Speed networking programs are showing up all around the world. These events tend to be a fun, exciting and effective way to make a lot of initial connections in a very different environment from the standard business networking meetings.
Speed networking programs generally involve people meeting each other one at a time for a short interval and then moving on to the next person in line. They are fairly structured in the way people queue up to meet. For example, one variation is to have two concentric circles of people. The individuals sit across from one another and after the set time period--generally one minute--the outside circle of people gets up and moves in one direction around the circle until everyone has met.
I have referred new business owners to attend a speed networking event for these specific reasons.
- You will get to meet fellow business owners in a fun environment. Those other people may be your customer, vendor, future partner, or a great referral partnership.
- You get to really practice your elevator pitch in an environment, where that is all you have time to do. Go there with 2 different elevator pitches and see how the person on the other side of the table reacts. If they lean in and are engaged-you have a winner. If they lean back, cross their arms, and/or have that “what are you talking about” look on their face-you need to work on your elevator pitch.
The potential downside to speed networking is if someone thinks this is "all" they have to do to network effectively.
The key to making speed networking work, is to take those contacts and develop them over time into "credible" relationships that lead to "profitable" referral partners.
Some people have likened speed networking to speed dating. While there are clearly some similarities, there is also a subtle but significant difference. Speed dating is done to eliminate potential suitors and keep from wasting time on people with whom you share no common interests and no mutual attraction. The presumption is that you are going to follow up with only the ones you connect with during the exercise.
Speed Networking is not to eliminate potential referral sources, but to nurture the relationships that come out of the event, even if you feel you have nothing in common.
So how do you go about participating in a speed networking exercise with the proper focus to make the most of your time? Here are several points to consider:
1. Start with the end in mind. You're not there to bag the big one. You're not there to eliminate referral sources or referral partners. You're there to find ways to connect with each and every person you have the opportunity to sit (or stand) in front of for that one-to two-minute period.
While you will not, realistically, become close friends with every person in the room, you're increasing your potential referral sources by meeting many people in one setting. HINT: Go into the networking event with the goal of really connecting with other participants.
2. Conduct the exercise as a mini interview. Think in terms of what you can find out about the person you're meeting. That'll allow you to help further the goals of that individual. Forget about mining their database or trying to determine who they know to further your goals. In working to mutually benefit one another, ask questions that'll clarify where and how you can best help your new referral source. HINT: If you have time left, have some basic questions you can ask the other person to get to know them better.
3. Make notes during the exercise. If you're not provided some type of contact card on which you can jot notes while in the exercise, be sure to use your own pad of paper to write down the information you discover. Be sure to note the person's interests and goals you could help achieve. HINT: Bring mini post-it-notes, put your notes on it, then adhere it on the back of their business card with my notes on it.
4. Follow up. If you don't follow up with those you meet during the speed networking exercise, you will only have succeeded in wasting your time -- which is exactly what you were trying to avoid by attending the event in the first place. Collect the business cards of each person you sit with during the exercise. The magic happens after the exercise, in the weeks and months to come. HINT: You are NOT there to collect business cards, then spam everyone. Please do not do this. Word will get out about you really fast.
Set appointments with each person, not to convince them they need your product, but with the intention of becoming better acquainted, finding out what their needs are and how you can positively impact their lives. You'll realize the reason you went to the speed networking exercise in the first place: to develop more referral business.
I believe speed networking can work if it's done the right way. It can be a fun, energetic and dynamic way to further your own goals of having a thriving, successful word-of-mouth-based business. Give it a try.