Preparing for a Speed Networking Event
- Know the rules.Most speed networking events adhere to a general format: one group remains stationary while a second group rotates from person to person, allowing for every potential pair to meet and talk briefly. Individual events may have particular rules and specifications, including the length of time you have to speak to each person. Familiarize yourself with these rules before the event.
- Determine your objective.Due to time constraints, you must be cautious about the information you choose to discuss with each person. Strategize by thinking about what you want to get from the event. Are you looking for a new job? Are you searching for a business partner? Do you need new suppliers? Having a clear sense of your objective will help you choose your topics of discussion wisely.
- Prepare your elevator speech.An “elevator speech” is a very brief pitch that explains who you are and what you do – the term is connected to the idea that you should be able to convey this information to people in the time it takes you to ride on an elevator. The length of your elevator speech can vary depending on how much time you are given to speak. If, for example, you have five minutes, then plan for a thirty-second speech. Remember that the other person will also need to speak, and then you’ll want time for a conversation. Your elevator speech should include:
- A basic introduction, with your name and current title. For example, you might say, “Hi, I’m Jane Smith. I’m the CEO of ABC Pool Company.”
- A brief explanation of what you do and what you value. For example, you might say, “I manage the general operations for my company in order to help homeowners build the pools and pool areas of their dreams.”
- A brief explanation of why you are speed networking. For example, you might say, “I am here today to make some connections. I’d like to find some individuals who can assist me in increasing my market share.”
- Bring professional business cards.As with any networking event, it’s important to show up for a speed networking event with a stack of business cards. Plan to distribute them to every person you meet.
- If you do not have formal business cards from your employer (or if you are unemployed), you can design them yourself. Use a professional template, and include your name, title, area of expertise, and contact information.
- Plan to arrive slightly early.Get to the event a few minutes early. Doing so ensures that you can start the rotation on time, without interfering with any logistical plans.
Attending a Speed Networking Event
- Listen carefully to instructions.Before the actual networking begins, your host should provide you with some brief instructions. Listen carefully to avoid confusion. Pay particular attention to:
- Details about who rotates and who remains seated.
- Instructions regarding who speaks first.
- Information about how long you will have to speak with each person.
- Smile.Smiling makes you seem approachable and helps you make a positive first impression. In addition, smiles can be contagious; you’ll affect the attitude of those around you.
- Deliver your elevator speech.When it is time for you to speak, smile, offer a firm handshake, and introduce yourself. Give your brief elevator speech. Aim to be calm, confident, and positive.
- Listen attentively to the other person’s elevator speech.When it is time for the other person to speak, listen carefully. Remember that this person is charged with listening to you; you owe the person the same courtesy. Besides, this person may be a good connection for you to have.
- Ask questions.People love to talk about themselves. After the other person’s elevator speech, take the time to ask a few open-ended questions. Actively listen to the answers, and strive to create a conversation that could be mutually beneficial. Exchanging ideas and learning about one another may yield an important connection.
- Take notes.If you are comfortable taking notes, feel free to do so. This will help you retain information about each person (more than what is on the business card). Your notes might include:
- Names of other people to contact.
- Company names.
- Shared ideas.
- Items for your to-do list.
- Exchange business cards.Exchanging business cards is important during a networking event because it leaves each person with valuable contact information. You can use this information to connect with the person in the future.
- End on a positive note.There are various ways to end each brief meeting on a positive note. In general, you should shake hands and thank each person for his or her time. In addition, you might say something like “good luck” or “nice talking with you.” If you’ve agreed to do something for the person or contact them again, affirm your plan to do so: “I will email my contact and get back to you shortly.”
- Follow up after the event.After the speed networking event is over, you should follow up with people with whom you had positive or productive conversations, even if you cannot assist each other with anything immediately. Follow through on anything you promised to others, including sharing information or introducing them to others. Helping other people reach their networking goals will make you feel good, but it will also make a lasting business connection who may later return the favor.
- Manage your expectations. Not all speed networking events will help you. If you attend one and feel disappointed, don’t give up right away. The mix of people will change all the time. Attend at least a few before you decide it’s not for you.
- If you are worried that you might not know what to say, bring along a list of potential questions to ask. You can always refer to the list if you feel stuck.