Speed Networking

I just attended a networking event and nearly stuck a needle in my eye.  Facilitating a Woman only Speed Networking event is a cross between the Junior High School Square Dance during Gym class AND a Tupperware Party. 

 It is true that Women are relationship-people – it is what we do.  We swim in the deep-end while washing our hands in a public bathroom – it happens quickly.

 That being said, translating our behavioral instinct toward relationship to business/sales/cash is an intricate system of levers and pulleys often met with a fiery death of business card promises that do not result in anything other than lost time.    Most of us have enough friends – what we need are relationships that result in business of some sort.  We want to move up the Maslow pyramid and into transformation and look great while doing it.

 We like to do business with people we know.  It is also hard to refer someone into one of our clients unless we know what they do- if we have experienced it.    Often at these events folks call me so I can help them rather than some sort of quid pro quo.  It makes it weird for everyone.

 Speed Networking is an amazing concept and it is rarely done well.  To truly facilitate value in such an extravaganza, keep some things in mind:

1)     Set up the room beforehand for random networking in groups of 4.  Put a colored dot on their name badge and have them group up this way.  Make women Get up and network out of their chairs and not across a table.  We don’t do well with furniture and our somatic make-up responds to movement.

2)     Set a level playing field:  Give each person time to introduce themselves using some clear format so that everyone uses the same format.  Keep it simple: 

a.     What I do

b.     Why you care

c.      What I need

d.     Something personal or funny

e.      My name and how you can remember it

3)     Set it up so folks know it is okay to not have any referrals for someone.  The last thing anyone needs is pressure to hold hands when there is no real interest.  One way I have seen this work well is to ask folks to write on their business card why they want the person to call them:  I have business for you OR I want to see if we can partner in some way OR I am intrigued.  This way it is clear to the person why they are calling.  You can even tell the person to write “self-serving” and make it okay for the person not to call them if they just don’t have the time.   I know it sounds harsh and it is SO appreciated.  It makes women come up with ways NOT to be self-serving.  I did this with a group of CEO’s and one woman needed another woman’s perspective on a political race.  She didn’t want to write self-serving so she came up with a way to GIVE something to the woman in exchange.  They are still working together now.    Make it real – not fake.

4)     Provide central timing.  Time each person and have everyone stop and applaud before going to the next person in the group.  This way everyone gets the same amount of time.  After the applause the other group members can ask questions of the presenter for 1 minute.  Applaud to get everyone to stop and then move to the next person.  This removes the discomfort of someone going on.  Provide time for folks to just ‘chat’ for a moment or two afterwards everyone is done.

5)     It is in lesson (2) of this writing and I repeat it here.  This is critical.  Include a personal or comical question in the introduction format to give folks more relationship in that minute.  Women like the deep-end and levity – make it part of the DNA of the exercise. 

a.      What are you most proud of in your life? 

b.     What was your favorite breakfast cereal as a kid?

c.      Your secret compulsion

d.     Embarrassing moment

6)     If doing one or more – mix up the room a little.  On their name tag also have a number if you want to have a second round so they group up 1-5 , 5-10 etc.  Make it so they have to scurry about trying to find their group.  This exercise of finding their group is fun and gets people moving.   A lot of speed networking events confine women to small spaces and have the event so controlled we don’t get to move around and be lost for a minute.  DO not over control the group.

7)     Call on random women to introduce themselves to the group – just a few.   This works really well to encourage folks to know each other and attend these sorts of things.  (Especially the first ones to arrive – it gives them a bonus for being on time.)

8)     In my company one of our core signature products is The Human Relationship is the True Currency™ wherein we use skill-building that creates the relationships that result in a stronger network and ultimately business.   Attendees of a networking event are best served by some sort of facilitated outcome or skill-building instead of just introductions to each other.   We make strangers team up in a group and do an exercise together – tie it to a skill – give them some learning AND THEN do the networking piece.  Think about it – our closest business relationships are usually around some sort of event or task.  Make it happen and make it educational.

9)     Have fun.  The facilitator needs to be part stand-up comedienne…. J

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