Speeeeeed Networking

So you know networking is a great way to make contacts and advance your career, but you're not very comfortable approaching strangers. Or perhaps you enjoy talking to people, but don't know how to "blow your own horn" without bragging or sounding conceited. Maybe you love to talk about yourself (most of us do), but you've been told you ramble and lose people's attention.  And what's the point, anyway? No one will remember me out of the crowd—right?

If these are your thoughts when the topic of networking comes up, you ought to give Speed Networking a try. These and other concerns are quickly set aside when you have 2 minutes to make your case—AND hear your partner's as well!

I had the opportunity to try it myself last Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the speed networking event co-hosted by STC WDCB and 5 other organizations (see end of article for details).

Patterned after the speed dating concept, speed networking is a structured, fast-paced event where you meet a lot of people in a short time and quickly exchange professional information. Small tables are arranged in a semi-circle, with one seat on the outside of the semi-circle and one on the inside. Those seated on the outside stay put, while those on the inside rotate through the tables. With each pairing, you and your partner have 2 minutes to network. The MC tells you when to start, and when two minutes are up, tells you it's time to move to the next table.  By the end of the evening, you've networked with all the people in the opposite circle.

Sound a little crazy? It is hectic, but it has a lot of advantages:

  1. You don't have to approach anyone—no "cold calling"
  2. You know the person you’re talking to is interested in networking—no guesswork or wasted time
  3. You find out very quickly whether this is someone you want to connect with
  4. If you aren't interested in someone, relax—they'll be gone in 2 minutes!
  5. No getting stuck in endless conversation with someone
  6. It's fun!

As a plus for the uninitiated, Jasmine Sante, one of the event organizers and founder of the Web Content Mavens, offered a short networking workshop before the main event. She provided helpful pointers about being memorable and interesting in a large crowd, and gave a step-by-step lesson on creating a speed networking speech.

According to Jasmine, here's what to include in your speed networking pitch, which should be no more than a minute long.

  1. Hi, I'm <name>.
  2. I am a <job title>—or – I'm in <field>.
  3. I do <quick run-down of your skills, responsibilities and accomplishments>.
  4. The reason I'm here tonight is <I'm looking for a job/to meet others in my profession/to learn what's going on in my field/etc.>.

Example: here's what I came up with for my pitch.

Hi, I'm Claudia Pillich. I'm a Technical Communicator.  I create user content for computer software. I do both print and online content, and I also design web sites—on the front end, not on the programming side—to host the content. I'm currently revamping the user content for a fortune 100 company. I created a template and converted their existing content so it would all have the same look and feel. Then I created a single, central site to host it, instead of it being scattered over many places. I’m also automating some of their workflows and procedures using their in-house tools. I'm here tonight to meet others in my field and find out what's new.

After the workshop and some announcements, we had time for informal networking and to enjoy some finger foods, then we moved into the speed networking portion of the evening. With a turnout of over 90 people, we had 2 circles of tables to choose from.

I chose an outside, stationary seat (so I could lay claim to my territory and project an aura of being in control—pretty clever, huh? I’m kidding—I just didn't feel like moving every 2 minutes). It took about an hour to meet and greet everyone in the inner circle. With only 2 minutes per match, we didn't always get to complete our conversations, and a few backups occurred, but overall, it went smoothly.

In my networking circle, most of the people I met were in the User Experience field, with only 2 or 3 Technical Communicators like me. I also met recruiters, college students, quite a few young professionals, and a few seasoned pros. Some of them were looking for work, others wanted to make contacts, and a few were actually hiring. It was quite a cross-section of professionals represented.

I made some valuable contacts and met some great people. What I enjoyed most was listening to the young people talk about their hopes, dreams and aspirations, and encouraging them to move forward. A few of them came back to me afterwards to recap what they'd learned and experienced. It was great to see the smiles on the faces of those who got a real confidence boost from the feedback they received.

The verdict: it was definitely worth my time and I recommend this type of event to anyone interested in expanding their professional network.

The only downside was the venue, RFD. It was extremely loud with awful acoustics, which made it very difficult to talk to people. You had to practically shout for your networking partner to hear you. I heard several comments from people about losing their voices. Apart from this I enjoyed the event.

The following local groups hosted the evening's activities:

Yours in Blogging,

Claudia Pillich
Technical Communicator
STC Washington, DC – Baltimore Chapter member
Hampton, VA

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