Much like speed dating, speed networking is a great way to meet potential new business partners, clients, and even employers. In this guide, we’ll walk you through exactly what speed networking is and why it’s useful for everyone from freelancers to corporations to social justice activists. We’ll also teach you how to plan a speed networking event that is both fun and productive for everyone involved.
But first, what is speed networking?
Tom Jaffee introduced the concept of speed dating to the corporate world in the early 2000s. His intention was to save people time and money they would normally spend trying to make new connections at industry events, individual meetings, and social gatherings. Because everyone is there for the same thing—building new business relationships—it was easier to actively follow through on those initial meetings after the event itself was over. Making as many relevant connections as possible is the name of the game in speed networking.
Speed networking events are geared towards fostering relationship development among participants and are often held in various settings, including:
- Corporate orientations
- College campuses
- Industry-wide gatherings
- Professional organizations
- Chamber of commerce groups
- Alumni mixers
Does speed networking actually work?
In today’s world, anyone looking to grow their business must rely on establishing professional connections both online and in person. Not surprisingly, there are various different networking events that go on year-round to help maximize these opportunities.
For individuals who might otherwise feel too shy to create valuable connections, networking events make the process easier by giving participants prompts and ensuring that everyone present has something in common to talk about. And while it’s simple enough to make online connections via various social media platforms, meeting others face-to-face is still the ultimate way to create truly meaningful connections.
When participants are involved in a speed networking event they are immediately connected with several individuals across varying professional fields, departments, and career levels. The types of people you meet at a speed networking event largely depends on the theme of the event and how finely curated the guest list is. After participants meet, they swap contact information and plan to meet again in the future.
Another added bonus of speed networking events, especially for those with social anxiety, is that there’s no need for small talk in these environments. Since all the participants are attending the event due to the sole purpose of making connections, you can dive right in. Professionals, in fact, highly appreciate getting straight to business. Many speed networking events set 10- to 15-minute timers for each conversation, meaning that if you’re having an awkward conversation with one person all you have to do is wait out the clock until you meet another.
Ultimately, providing participants with the opportunity to develop professional relationships opens doors to potential growth opportunities and partnerships in the future. So it only makes sense that an event that brings together like-minded folks for a shared purpose would lead to some long-lasting partnerships.
How to plan a speed networking event
Speed networking events seem easy enough to plan. However, there are some specific considerations you’ll need to make in order to pull off this event type.
Step 1: Secure the date and venue
Think about your target demographic when securing the date and venue for your event and be sure not to book it when they are normally swamped. For example, March and April might be a terrible time to host a speed networking event for tax preparers.
Also, decide whether a morning, afternoon, or evening event makes the most sense for your audiences’ schedules. Some groups may reserve their most important client meetings for weekday lunch hours while others may prefer to avoid evening events since that’s the only time they get to spend with their families.
For your speed networking event venue, you’ll want to consider whether or not the event will be long enough to serve food (two hours or longer should at least have snacks). You should also think about the atmosphere and what your target audience would enjoy. Since the point of the event is to talk to people, choose a location where it won’t be too loud or too dark.
Step 2: Promote the event
Once you’ve secured your date and venue it’s time to promote your speed networking event. Depending on how big an event you are planning, you should aim to begin promotion two months to three weeks before. Make sure to highlight the conversation format, overall theme or audience, and extras such as catering or guest speakers.
Step 3: Plan out the schedule or program
Start with an introduction or orientation at the beginning of the event to get everyone acquainted with how the schedule should progress. Mention when there will be breaks for refreshments or to stretch their legs between rounds. Talk about why everyone signed up, what types of people are there, and suggestions for how everyone can make the most of their time during the event.
As for the main part of the event, keep in mind that it’s called speed networking for a reason, which means your networking rounds should be quick and concise. The average is anywhere from two to 15 minutes per session.
Also, make sure you plan in time to warn guests when their round will be ending soon. A two-minute warning is a great option, because it gives people time to tie up the conversation and exchange contact information before moving on.
You may choose to have guests switch seats throughout the event or stick with one table at a time. Either way, you can use a seating chart maker to increase the value of the experience with a custom-seating chart that plays matchmaker for your professional attendees. Arrange seating by profession, individual participant goals, or any other grouping you think guests will enjoy.
At the end of the event, make sure to wrap up the same way you began. Thank guests for coming, offer suggested next steps now that they’ve made amazing new connections, and be sure to let them know where they can get more information about your next round of speed networking.
Step 4: Set up the event
Whether you have volunteers or staff working the event, the day of your speed networking event will need to be as organized as possible. To-do list items such as arranging stations, buying name tags and markers, and hanging decor or signage should all be completed prior to the big day.
Step 5: Be aware of common problems
Distractions, misaligned guest lists, and a lack of flow are among the most common problems at speed networking events. The good news is that there are simple fixes for all of these issues. From choosing a quiet space to preparing some group ice breakers, preemptively solving these issues now will go a long way towards creating a successful event later.
Examples of successful speed networking events
Here are a few examples of speed networking events you can use to inspire your own guest list, focus topic, and format:
- The Radcliff Small Business Alliance’s speed networking event at the Lincoln Trail Golf Club in Vine Grove, KY brought area business owners together so they could find collaboration opportunities both professionally and personally.
- The District Attorney’s Office and the Solano Partnership Against Violence’s speed networking event in the county Events Center in Fairfield, TX focused on one significant community issue and fostered new connections among people determined to work together and solve it.
- The Kearney Area Development Council, Kearney Enrichment Council, and the chamber of commerce’s Empowering Business Workshop speed networking event in Kearney, NE chose the lightning round format, giving participants one minute each to speak, listen, and exchange cards.
- Chamber Expo, Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce’s flagship event, is hosting its popular speed networking event at the Mercure Hull Grange Park Hotel in Willerby, UK, and is combining it with their expo event.
The A’s to your speed networking Q’s
How do you tell guests to prepare for a speed networking event?
Instruct guests to prepare for their speed networking event the same way they’d prepare for a general meeting. Have a clear goal, remember one or two facts about themselves that demonstrate their value in relation to that goal, and keep some follow-up questions in mind.
How do you run a speed network?
Running a speed networking event is one part event planning and one part understanding people. It’s your job to keep the entire schedule on time but you also have to help people feel comfortable enough to make new connections.
Why is speed networking important?
Speed networking is fun, which also often means it’s effective. Rather than crossing fingers and hoping they’ll meet a new client or two at a random conference, attendees at a speed networking event know they are nearly guaranteed to meet at least one high-quality connection. And they know they’ll have a good time doing it!
Up next: Want to take your speed networking event online? Check out our expert tips on how to improve virtual event engagement.