The concept is straightforward: Find someone you don't know at the conference cocktail reception and strike up business-related small talk. But as most people will confess, networking is not easy. And I'll admit it: I'm kind of shy, which makes it that much more difficult. Even managing a simple handshake can be a challenge when you've got one hand on your drink and the other balancing a plate of food. And don't get me started on how I'm also supposed to find a third arm to pull out a business card.
So when the opportunity presented itself to attend a “speed networking” session on day one of last month's West Coast Medical Device and Bio/Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum, I was curious.
Speed networking, it turns out, is similar to speed dating, where potential mates meet in a low-pressure environment to chat for a few minutes before rotating to the next seat. The difference is that in speed dating your goal is to narrow down the playing field of possible matches, while the goal of speed networking is simply to add to your network. Already speed networking had an edge in my book — no fear of rejection!
The hour-long session, moderated by Cris Canning, CMP, head investigator for eventand consulting firm Hospitality Ink, began with about 50 attendees taking seats across from one another at long tables arranged in a horseshoe shape. Canning then instructed us to develop a 30-second “elevator pitch,” explaining exactly what we do and why our partner across the table might want to know.
Once the networking began, the “pitches” actually took on a relatively natural, conversational flow, as pairs of attendees introduced themselves, swapped business cards, and chatted about how each could help the other. After a couple of minutes, Canning, sounded her (very shrill) whistle and instructed those seated in the inner circle to rotate one seat to the right, and the whole thing started again.
While two or three minutes is not enough time to develop a real relationship with someone, it certainly broke the ice at the beginning of the conference. I know I talked with a slew of people I might otherwise never have met. The consensus among other participants was overwhelmingly positive as well. “This is great,” said one attendee seated next to me. “Usually at networking events, my first inclination is to head straight to the bar, but this really took the pressure off.” Ah … another fellow networking-phobe cured!
By setting the right tone at the start of a meeting, planners can energize attendees and spark an atmosphere of productivity. Quick Meeting Openers for Busy Managers: More than 50 Icebreakers, Energizers, and Other Creative Activities That Get Results, by Brian Cole Miller, provides readers with the tools they need to get a meeting going. The activities in the book steer clear of the “touchy-feely” icebreakers that often elicit nothing but anxiety. Instead, activities center around quick and easy strategies for expediting introductions, brainstorming and idea sharing, and working in groups. All meeting openers last less than 15 minutes and require no advance prep or handouts.