I recently attended my first speed networking event. I reluctantly signed up, because I must admit, I have been biased against them. Having a background in speech and voice, I know that incessant talking and speaking above noise, can put strain on one’s vocal cords and cause hoarseness that can last for days. This was my main objection.
However, because I believe people should not judge something before they experience it, I decided to check out the Jamesburg-Monroe Chamber of Commerce speed networking event.
The room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel was quite spacious. Half the room was set up with long tables to accommodate pairs of business people who would soon get to share with each other. The other half of the room had the food and drink stations and round tables for eating. I especially liked the spaciousness and the room design, and doing the speed networking first set the stage for more intimate conversations over dinner.
So how does speed networking work? Basically, one person of each pair is instructed to talk for a timed interval of usually one or two minutes, while the person across the table listens. Then the speaker and listener switch roles. After each has his/her turn, the facilitator signals one of the two to move on, and the game starts again, each participant with a new partner.
This lasted for 45 minutes, and while I didn’t speak with everyone who attended the event, I did meet more people than I would normally and I must admit, it was fun, and, my voice is fine.
Actually, I think it is preferable that you don’t meet everyone! I much prefer remembering the names and details of a dozen new business owners (and even that’s a lot), to barely remembering 25 or 30.
So for now, I’ll stop thinking of speed networking as lacking depth and screaming to be heard. But, as a speech professional, I can’t help think about the process. One person is supposed to give his “elevator speech,” or networking presentation while the other person listens. But what really happens is that this speaker-listener demarcation becomes quite blurred and rather fast. Instead of one listener and one speaker, it is clear that dialogue is preferred over monologue. Is this because we are such poor listeners, or because we prefer the intimacy of conversation over being a captive audience? Did the speed networking originators know we’d default to conversation?
Hmmm, food for thought.