Speed networking programs are showing up all around the world.  These events tend to be a fun, exciting, and effective way to make a lot of initial connections in a very different environment from the standard business networking meetings.

Speed networking programs generally involve people meeting each other one at a time for a short interval and then moving on to the next person in line.  They are fairly structured in the way people queue up to meet.  For example, one variation is to have two concentric circles of people.  The individuals sit across from one another and after the set time period (generally 1-2 minutes), the outside group of people get up and move in one direction around the circle until everyone has met.


As founder of the world’s largest business referral and networking organization, you might not be surprised to learn that I have some definite opinions and ideas about how to best use speed networking as a tool for creating viable referral partnerships.  First, let me say that I think that speed networking is a great way to meet other business professionals in a short period of time.  It is a good tool for business people to apply to the “visibility” stage of the VCP Process™ (Visibility, Credibility, Profitability)—Visibility, being the first phase of growing a relationship where individuals become aware of each other, develops into the Credibility phase where individuals are shown to be reliable and worthy of confidence, and ultimately moves into the profitability phase where both individuals benefit from a mutually rewarding relationship.


The potential downside to speed networking is if someone thinks this is “all” that they have to do to network effectively.  The key to making speed networking work, is to take those contacts and develop them over time into “credible” relationships that lead to “profitable” referral partners. 


Some people have likened speed networking to speed dating.  While there are clearly some similarities, there is also a subtle but significant difference.  Speed dating is done to ELIMINATE potential suitors and keep from wasting time on people with whom you share no common interests and for whom there is no mutual attraction.  The presumption is that you are going to follow up with only the ones you connect with during the exercise.


This speaks to why I am entitling this article Speed Networking…and BEYOND.  You see, I do not feel that speed networking can be utilized to its potential if you use it as a means to eliminate potential referral sources.  If you’re familiar with my material at all, you already know how I feel about poaching at business events, looking for the big kill.  Developing a strong referral base is about developing relationships with a wide variety of people, even those with whom you seem to have nothing in common!


So how do you go about participating in a speed networking exercise with the proper focus in order to really benefit from your time there and the contacts that you are able to make?  Here are several points to consider:


1. Start with the end in mind.  You are not there to bag the big one!  You are not there to eliminate referral sources.  You’re not there to find ways to eliminate potential referral partners, you’re there to find ways to connect with each and every person (or at least as many as possible) that you have the opportunity to sit (or stand) in front of for that one to two minute period. 


If you view the speed networking exercise as a type of catalyst event—an event which brings people together to build symbiotic relationships by cross-referring one another and generating regular referrals for each other—you are already thinking with the end result in mind.  I cannot stress this highly enough.  While you will not, realistically, be able to become close friends with every person whom you do the exercise with, you are increasing your potential referral sources by being introduced to many people in one setting.


2.  Conduct the exercise as a mini interview about your new contact.  What I mean by that is, change your mindset to think in terms of what you can find out about her that will give you the knowledge you need to know best in order to further the goals of that individual.  Forget about mining her database or trying to determine who she knows who can further your goals…it’s all about what she is interested in and working toward so that you can work together to mutually benefit one another.  You have this time to ask questions that will clarify where and how you can best help your new referral source.


3. Make notes during the exercise.  If you are not provided with some type of a contact card on which you can jot notes while in the exercise, be sure to use your own pad of paper to write down the items you discover about him.  Where there are areas of interest or goals that you know you have the ability in which to serve, make sure you get that down on paper so you don’t forget about him later.


4. Follow up.  If you do not follow up with those you meet during the speed networking exercise, you will only have succeeded in wasting your time—which is exactly what you were trying to avoid doing by attending the event in the first place!  To that end, be sure you collect the business cards of each person whom you sit with during the exercise.  The magic is going to happen AFTER the exercise, in the weeks and months to come.  Set appointments with each person, NOT to sell to them or to convince them why they need your product, but with the intention of becoming better acquainted, finding out what their needs are and how you can have a positive impact in their lives.  This will, in turn, find you realizing what it is that you went to the speed networking exercise for in the first place…to develop more referral business!


I believe speed networking can work…I believe that it can be a fun, energetic, dynamic way to further your own goals of having a thriving, successful word-of-mouth based business…if it’s done the right way.