Networking is one of those powerful and valuable life experiences that many people continue to find daunting. Engaging in a formal networking event can prove to be quite intimidating, especially for people who lack natural confidence. Picture yourself walking into a room to a sea of unknown faces with the task of seeking out people to connect with – Feeling nervous and apprehensive? Don’t worry; you’re not alone.
So, what is a fun and more inclusive alternative to traditional networking events? Speed networking! This is essentially a fast-paced event directly facilitated by a host that allows you to spend a short amount of time connecting with a large number of people. Think speed dating, but for business!
Hosting a successful speed networking event will require a lot of careful planning and coordination. You’ll need to manage the guest list, arrange the venue and catering, coordinate who talks to who and in what order. With so much going on, running a smooth event means ensuring nothing else detracts from the most important element: those vital conversations and connections.
Read on to discover more about speed networking and how you can successfully host your own event!
What Is Speed Networking?
You may have heard of speed dating, where two people quickly introduce themselves and ask each other questions, trying to cut to the chase and get to know each other in an assigned amount of time — before moving on to the next person and repeating the process.
Speed networking is essentially just that, but instead of trying to score a date, you attempt to build business connections. This networking style is generally more direct and to the point than other traditional networking events. A pre-planned itinerary is typically filled with specific, fast-paced activities that push people to interact with one another in search of common ground and mutually beneficial opportunities.
Traditional forms of networking are usually more laid back. While they may include seminars, workshops, trade expos, conferences, and other activities that encourage interaction, people are free to mingle and talk to whoever they want. In some cases, the room is filled with dozens of unknown faces and, other times, peers you’re already friends with. Unfortunately, whilst this traditional method can bolster great connections, it also leaves room for people to leave without talking to anybody new at all.
On the other hand, speed networking basically forces its participants to network with one another and connect with new people. The set activities see participants have a short conversation with everyone in the room, allowing them to see where connections strike.
A considerable downside to this method is that there may not be enough time for a connection to be fully fleshed out due to time constraints. On the flip side, it drives people to minimise, if not eliminate, small talk and focus on more important talking points. It also allows people to meet as many people as possible – if not every participant at the entire event!
Speed networking is highly efficient in presenting you with as many opportunities as possible. This is perhaps its greatest strength! Although there are valid concerns that meaningful connections are hard to establish in a few short minutes, the main point of speed networking events is to light that initial spark. People can, should, and in fact, usually do exchange contact details to flesh out potential opportunities outside the event.
Types of Speed Networking Events
There are a multitude of ways you can run a speed networking event, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. Listed down below are the most popular methods for you to choose from so you can decide which one best fits your needs.
Round-robin Networking Events
This is the most common and straightforward way of hosting a speed networking event. The round-robin system sees the participants arranged in two circles, where one circle is inside of the other. The organiser will then signal to participants that they can begin talking.
After a few minutes, the host indicates that the round of networking is over. One of the circles then rotates, moving people in that circle to face the next person in the other circle (for a more relaxed vibe, you can arrange participants in a line of desks that face each other). Thus, given enough networking rounds, the participants can meet most, if not all, guests at the event.
Pre-determined Meeting Events
A pre-determined or station-based meeting event offers a more focused set-up where participants can narrow down the people they interact with. Even if you have a specific theme for the event, this idea is perfect if you have a diverse range of participants who only want to talk to certain types of people. For example, some people might only be interested in suppliers, others only in potential buyers or clients, and others only people from select companies. They can then be efficient with their time and not bother networking with those who do not fit their criteria or interests.
This is accomplished by having participants answer a questionnaire before the actual event. Here, they can indicate their preferences for the kind of people they want to network with, as well as their own information and professional background. Then, using the data gathered from the questionnaire, participants with the same interests can be placed in or directed to particular stations. Again they are then given a set amount of time to talk with each other before moving on to the next station on their list.
Group-based Networking Events
In a group-based speed networking event, participants are placed into groups or tables with other participants. Each group usually has around 5-10 people, but it can technically be any number you deem appropriate for your event. The groupings may have a purpose, such as bringing people with similar backgrounds or business interests together (similar to a station-based event) but it may also be completely randomised. Each participant is then given a set amount of time to introduce themselves and pitch a possible connection with their group mates.
Set an Objective & Theme for Your Speed Networking Event
It is wise to determine a specific theme or niche for your event. By having a well-defined purpose and objective, you are more likely to provide your participants with valuable connections.
An obvious example would be to focus on a specific industry. While simply connecting people from a particular industry may be a specific enough theme for a large event, further specialising your speed networking event can be very practical. For example, you want to host a networking event for writers. Maybe it is a good idea to ask what kind of writers should participate? Copywriters? Novelists?
Let’s say that you make the event for fiction writers; you can narrow it down even further. For example, you can make it an event for those in a specific genre. You can then further specify the goal of the event. For example, is it to connect writers with other writers in general? Or maybe you want to connect writers with literary agents or publishing houses.
Then based on this, you can also look to shift the tone of your event to something that better fits your demographic. Fine-tune things such as the host’s script, the venue, how the tables, chairs, and stations are arranged can affect the appearance and tone of the event. Do you want it to feel more casual or more professional? Questions like these will help you conceptualise your event and are crucial to setting it up effectively, regardless of the industry.
Funding Your Speed Networking Event
Unless your event is only intended for a company’s employees— meaning the company itself probably funds it—you will need to look for ways to fund your event. You will likely need to pay for the venue, food and drinks, and even a host or workshop teacher should you choose to incorporate other business or professional development activities.
One way to do this is to charge fees for participation – this can solely fund the event or even generate some profit! While sometimes this is perceived as a barrier to entry, and you may have less people interested, it can also be seen as a sign that the event is more legitimate. After all, those who are serious about getting something out of the event will be willing to pay a small fee to attend. This can consequently fill your event with more valuable and high-status participants. It also ensures that people who sign up for the event actually attend!
Another option is to look for sponsorships. A speed networking event can also be used as a trade show where companies, sellers, and providers can pitch their products and services to potential customers. They are given exposure to a group of their target customers, and you can most definitely charge for that.
Choosing a Speed Networking Event Venue
Networking events are usually loud, bustling events with lots of guests! This is all the more exacerbated in speed networking, as people will, ideally, chatter away relentlessly as they attempt to connect and network with other guests.
It is then crucial to hold your speed networking at a large enough venue for the number of guests attending. After all, not only do you want your participants to hear each other amongst other people talking, you also want them to listen to the host’s cues about when the round will end. For this reason, your speed networking venue should not be too large or too small – aim for the Goldilocks zone right in the middle.
A restaurant or bar may be an option for smaller, more laid-back networking events with a select guest list – you’ll want to ensure participants pre-register if you have a limited capacity at the venue. A big open space like a community centre or conference venue can accommodate far more people but may make the night’s schedule unmanageable, particularly if you need to coordinate lots of transitions between networking partners.
If you need to accommodate higher numbers, consider breaking attendees into smaller groups or even separate conference rooms to keep the event manageable.
It can be ideal to hold your networking event in a bar or restaurant, as the venue can take care of much of the preparation for you. Using an existing events package avoids the need to coordinate catering, drinks, furniture and AV equipment yourself. It also creates an engaging and social atmosphere for the event, putting people more at ease than a bland conference room or professional venue.
Conference facilities can also tick many of these boxes, though they may or may not supply catering themselves.
How to Plan Your Speed Networking Event
Your schedule leading up to your speed networking event should look something like the following:
- Secure the date and venue of your event. Think about if you want to hold your event in the morning or afternoon, how long it should go for and what day of the week it should be. Consider your demographic and choose a logical set-up for the event.
- Promote the event. Ideally, promotion efforts should begin weeks before the date of the event (maybe even months if it’s a larger scale event). Doing so will allow the promotions to take effect and help you gain a healthy amount of guests.
- On the day of the actual event, the staff and volunteers will need to set up the venue. Chairs, tables, stalls, stations, and ventilation should all be completely set before the event begins. Make sure that the tables also have pens and paper for people to brainstorm and exchange details.
- Finally, you need to plan out the actual schedule or program for the event. Decide on how long a networking round will be (some events have it as short as two minutes while others dedicate up to15 minutes). Determine at what time intervals you will warn participants their time is almost up: will you inform them when they have only 3 minutes or 30 seconds remaining?
For the event schedule itself, you will need to decide if some kind of formal orientation or introduction before commencing the event is a good idea. Here, you should explain the mechanics of the activities, outline the itinerary for the event, and even give some tips or sample questions for guests to use to maximise their interactions. You can also include these kinds of tips in your promotions to make them more engaging and build up hype. For example, you can remind them to bring their business cards or practice their elevator pitch!
Consider including some breaks as well, allowing for bathroom visits, food breaks, or even just some free time for people to wind down, relax, and gather themselves for the next batch of conversations. It can also be a good idea to include some ‘open networking’ time at the end of the event, giving guests a chance to talk to whoever they want (or anyone they didn’t get enough time with). This ensures attendees don’t get frustrated with the strict schedule and get maximum value out of the event.
If you’re struggling to work out a seating plan or rotation schedule for your speed networking event, there are apps created specifically for this purpose. Mixer Seater is an app that allows you to generate seating plans and schedules for speed networking events, including calculating the ideal ‘matches’ and sending schedules directly to attendee’s phones. It also integrates with Eventbrite for maximum convenience.
Speed Networking Event Questions and Activities
If you choose to hold some kind of orientation, you can use this time to suggest some questions and talking points to help get the ball rolling with their conversations. Some events even hand people a list of questions they are encouraged to ask. These will vary depending on the industry and the goals of the event, so definitely consider what’s most relevant to your event theme and audience.
Here are 10 questions to ask at a speed networking event:
- What inspired you to go into [career or job role]?
- What’s your biggest goal for this year?
- What networking groups or events are you a part of?
- What problem do you/your company solve for customers?
- What’s your biggest goal when networking?
- What’s the biggest project you’re working on right now?
- What do you like/dislike the most about your job?
- What’s one book you would definitely recommend to me?
- What are the most important skills to succeed in [job role/industry]?
- What do you think [job role/industry] will look like in 10 years time?
Other more general questions people can ask each other include asking for opinions about their business or idea, requesting advice, or asking if they’ve met people at the event that you ought to meet as well. ‘Who should I definitely talk to in this room?’ is a great way to benefit from the knowledge of more experienced networkers in your field.
Entertainment for Your Speed Networking Event
You want to keep the atmosphere lively and energetic at your event, and having some entertainment can definitely help with that! You can also incorporate games or icebreaker activities before the actual networking to help shake any nerves.
If you’re planning on having an intermission, this is an excellent time to have a performance or live speaker. Whether that’s a professional speaker with some business insights or a comedian hired to lighten the mood, working some kind of performance into your networking event can make it more appealing. Prizes and raffle draws are always crowd favourites too. Adding in some simple background music can also help set the event’s tone – and help avoid any awkward silences.
If you plan to finish the night with some ‘open networking’ time, this can be a great time to bring in some quality entertainment, such as a band or DJ.
Catering for Your Speed Networking Event
Speaking of entertainment, having great refreshments is a simple way of keeping guests happy. Having tables or food stations with some light snacks will do the trick just fine. After all, people are there to network and not to have a meal, and nobody wants to talk with their mouth full. So make sure that the catering options consist of easy-to-eat food that people can grab in between conversations.
Social snack food like grazing boards, cheese platters and charcuterie is always a winner at any kind of event. Other small canapes that don’t require a knife and fork are also safe and popular options. Chances are that any event venue or caterer will have its own selection of finger food that includes specific dietary requirements.
Of course, coffee is always appreciated too, and if the venue is licensed, offering drinks is a good way to help people get comfortable
Another benefit of choosing a restaurant or bar for your networking event is that it simplifies the catering side of things. The venue will already have its own liquor license, bar staff and wait staff to handle the service, so you can focus on promoting and running the event itself.
If guests are paying to attend the event, they’ll probably expect to have food and drinks provided. However, it’s reasonable to limit the number of drinks included per head and let guests pay their own way for additional beverages. Just check with your venue ahead of time to ensure this arrangement is acceptable or whether you’re expected to cover all the costs upfront.
Managing Your Speed Networking Event Sign-up
Another crucial part of planning your event is to create a registration system where people will sign up. Again, try to make it as seamless and as hassle-free as possible. You want people to be excited about the event, not stress over it.
There are numerous online tools that you can use to facilitate the sign-up process. It can be as simple as Google Forms, or you can use more sophisticated ticketing services such as Eventbrite (useful if you plan to charge for admission). You can even go old school and set up physical registration booths in the offices of companies whose members you want to attract.
If you’re soliciting guests at a conference or other existing event, having a few tablets set up for prospective attendees to register through is a good strategy.
Start planning at least a few weeks ahead of time, if not months, to ensure you have enough time to get the word out. Giving people ample time to register helps build momentum and get more attendees on the bandwagon. This gives you the best chance of gaining as many participants as you want or need. Also, remember to provide the people who sign-up confirmation that their registration is successful and that they are admitted into the event – a good old confirmation email will do.
Promoting Your Speed Networking Event
Effectively promoting your event is key to garnering a healthy amount of participants. Ensure that there is a consistent effort to post on relevant social media platforms, make your posts appealing with witty captions, and include pictures and videos for maximum engagement. You can even host a small giveaway for those who retweet or share the post (even just a free ticket to your event). It’s also a good idea to have an official Facebook event page where you can constantly post updates and tap into the personal networks of anyone who clicks ‘Interested’
If you really want to up your online marketing, you can create a website for the event. Here, you can explain what the event is all about, outline what can be expected at the event, and even send out reminders for those attending. You can also include the event’s sign-up form. Make the website optimised for search engines and ensure it’s eye-catching to spark interest and intrigue for those who see it. Link the website in your social media posts while you’re at it, too.
Don’t forget about old school physical advertising, too. This works particularly well for smaller, more localised events. Consider putting up flyers on a workplace noticeboard or getting your event mentioned in the company e-newsletter. University campuses can also be a great place to promote an industry-specific event. No matter how you promote the event, however, you need to develop a consistent brand voice that reflects the kind of event it is and tells people what they’ll be able to get out of the event.
How do I Start My Own Networking Group?
Just like hosting a successful networking event, starting your own networking group requires a clear purpose. First, you will need to find a specific niche where people of your networking group can rally around and connect. Start by contacting people near you who are invested in your chosen subject to gather for an initial networking event or start making connections at a relevant conference. Set up a networking event for this group, whether it’s a formal event or a casual catch-up for drinks. Next, ensure you are continually building connections within the group by regularly meeting with one another, holding more events, and sharing resources with the group. After all, the more you give, the more you’ll get out of it.
What Are Some Good Ways to Promote a Networking Event on the Internet?
Make sure to have an active social media presence where you constantly promote your networking event. LinkedIn can be a great place to promote business and career-focused events, as many users are actively looking for advancement opportunities. You can try reaching out to prominent figures in your field or industry to see if they will share the news about your upcoming event. If you have an industry conference or meeting occurring in your area, you can try promoting your event on their social media pages or in relevant Facebook or Linkedin groups.