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Speed networking (or speed business meeting) is a meeting format designed to accelerate business contacts, generally with a bell. Primarily, the practice involves multiple people that gather in a single space in order to exchange information. Participants greet each other in a series of brief exchanges during a set period of time. During an interaction, attendees share their professional backgrounds and business goals. Networkers are generally seeking exposure to new markets and/or to expand their pool of vendors.
Speed networking is often referenced as a derivative of speed dating, the round-robin approach to meeting potential suitors first developed by Rabbi Yaacov Deyo in the late 1990s. Speed networking, a more recent concept, arose from the combination of speed dating and business networking and is thought to have started in the United States and, perhaps, simultaneously in the United Kingdom. Speed networking was first utilized during the US economic downturn of the early 2000s and began rising in popularity as the decade drew to a close. Credit for applying speed dating concepts to the corporate world has been attributed to Tom Jaffee, a Columbia MBA alumnus and founder of a speed-dating network. Although the techniques for speed dating and speed networking can be similar – individuals paired or grouped together for the purpose of introduction – the practices differ in their end goals. Speed daters are trying to narrow down their choices by eliminating the unsuitable; conversely, speed networkers are trying to broaden their connections by increasing their exposure.
Speed networking can be based on one of three models: meeting random attendees sequentially in a round robin, meeting with specific people based on preassigned match ups (the first two models are one-on-one), or a third assembly-based model where individuals speak to a preselected group. Most speed networking events begin in the style of a more traditional meeting: an open room for mingling. Following this open forum, during which drinks or food may be served, the event can be called to order by the host who explains the structure of the event, which differs slightly based on the available models (see below). In general, speed networking events all have time limits placed on the interactions and a moderator that will time and announce these intervals. In addition, if the speed networking model calls for specific movements of participants (to a preassigned table or group, for example) then the moderator would also facilitate these details.
In the round robin model of speed networking attendees meet each other sequentially. The pairings are therefore random. Chairs are often organized in two circles or facing rows of desks. The host calls for the beginning of the meeting – often by use of a bell or buzzer – and the persons introduce themselves, taking turns to give a brief summary of business history and goals. Often business cards are exchanged and possibly additional information for a follow up meeting. After a set period of time – usually a few minutes – the moderator/host calls time and the meeting is over. Then either the inner or outer circle sitters – or the front or back line of desks – would move to the next space. Following a brief settling in period, the moderator would call for the next meeting to begin. In this round robin model, an attendee would meet an average of 10 contacts during an hour-long event.
In the station-based model of speed networking, attendees meet each other individually based on a pre-assignment. Prior to coming to the event, attendees fill out a questionnaire listing their business background (job title and industry) and whom they wish to meet (suppliers, customers or vendors). The profiles are then matched electronically and a list of meetings is generated for participants based on their preferences. At the event, numbered stations are set up where attendees meet with their assigned partners according to their list for a set period of time. A typical station-based speed networking event may yield 7 to 10 contacts during an hour-long event.
In the group-based model of speed networking attendees do not meet individually but instead are assigned to a sequence of tables. Each table seats a specific number of participants, depending on attendance. A typical event may call for tables of four to 10. Table assignments are often predetermined by computer software but other techniques can be used to determine the groups each attendee participates in. Each person at the table takes a few minutes – the length of these introductions can also be set – to introduce him or herself. Time at the table varies based on how the event organiser coordinate the event but usually lasts five to 15 minutes.
Speed networking has many applications. A variety of organizations use speed networking to structure events: alumni associations, chambers of commerce, business associations, universities and trade shows. Events that benefit from speed networking include: membership drives, networking events, mentoring programs, career fairs, team building exercises and vendor pairings. Speed networking is particularly useful "when many organisations are gathering at large events."
In speed mentoring, the end goal is to facilitate suitable mentor-protégé matches. Speed mentoring sessions are typically "a series of short, focused conversations about specific questions. You will meet with a limited number of mentees in 10-minute time slots each. When directed, mentees will proceed to their mentor's table."
Speed mentoring is effective due to the fact that the mentee gets to experience a number of different interactions in a short period of time. This maximises the opportunity to find a suitable mentor.
Speed mentoring events may have developed concurrently in other professional applications, but may be traced back to the architectural profession. In 2001-2003, Grace H. Kim, through her work as the Intern Development Program (IDP) Washington State Coordinator advocated for interns to find a mentor outside their firm, but found that many young interns, especially those new to Seattle had a difficult time identifying potential mentors. In 2006, after Kim co-hosted an American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) Salon on mentorship and other issues for architecture students and emerging professionals with Lee W. Waldrep at the National American Institute of Architects Convention, the idea of Speed Mentoring was born.
At the 2007 National AIA Convention, Kim and Waldrep co-presented a session entitled Speed Mentoring: Developing You, an Emerging Professional and over 100 attendees participated - representing the spectrum of interns to senior leadership. After a brief overview of mentorship and the available resources, this interactive session required attendees to participate in a live demonstration of the program. They were asked to stand in a line based on their number of years in the profession. Then the line was folded in half and individuals were asked to move their chairs to face one another. A bell was rung at which time the two facing individuals traded business cards, introduced themselves and shared what they were looking for in a mentoring relationship. At five minutes, the bell was rung again and one row of people moved two seats down. This process was repeated four times. While they were not asked to rank their top choices, the idea was that if this exercise were repeated at a local chapter or in a large office, the interns could rank their mentor preferences. And likewise, the mentor could rank their preferences for a protégé – hopefully resulting in a better mentor match. The session was a success and was subsequently repeated at two National AIA Conventions (San Antonio and Boston). More importantly, the participants took the idea home to implement in various settings.
Below is a list of the known AIA chapters and organizations that have conducted speed mentoring programs – many of these groups hosted programs this year and some have done so for 5 consecutive years:
- AIA NY (Women in Architecture) –Sept 19, 2012 (6th Annual)
- AIA Convention (Miami 2010 / New Orleans, 2011)
- Boston Society of Architects: Six at Six – Sept 18, 2012
- AIA East Bay – April 3, 2012
- AIA Philadelphia – March 22, 2011 / April 12, 2012 
- AIA NY (ENYA) – April 24, 2012
- AIA DC/AIA Potomac Valley – December 7, 2011
- AIA Baltimore
- AIA North Virginia
- AIA Florida
- Chicago Women in Architecture – October 27, 2009
- Women in Design – Kansas City
- AIA Kansas City
- AIA South Atlantic – October 2, 2009
- AIA Seattle
Some universities have also established speed mentoring events including:
- University of Kentucky, which has also developed a mentorship tool kit.
- City College of New York
- California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo)
- University of Maryland
- University of California - Berkeley.
Other industries in which speed mentoring events have been publicized include:
- International Interior Design Association (NY Chapter) – Oct 10, 2012 (Annual)
- NEWH (Hospitality Industry Network)
- American Society of Media Photographers
- Information Architecture Institute
- Wings of Hope (UK)
- Women of the World Festivals (UK)
Advantages and disadvantages
Speed networking has advantages over typical meet-and-greet events.
It facilitates the meeting of individuals who may not have had the opportunity to exchange information without a structured environment. Each attendee is "guaranteed to meet more people than [he/she] typically would using traditional networking during the same amount of time."  It relieves participants of the stress of introductions as attendees all have a single purpose. It rids the awkward "exit" by having time limits – no need to find a way to bow out of a conversation gracefully – and therefore increases the number of potential new meets.
However, there are also risks for attendees, and these relate to an unfortunate perception that a business relationship can also be speed-tracked, as well as a misconception that quantity is of prime importance. Members still need to take time to develop relationships with individual fellow members outside the networking event and the importance of this cannot be overestimated. Other principles of good networking, such as an attitude of giving, not pushing, business cards or marketing material at people, for example, still stand. People can not just drop in during a round robin event as it disrupts the flow and matching.
It positions the host as an expert in information exchange and business leadership. It adds value to organizations whose structure is innate to business mingling, like alumni associations and chambers of commerce.
The different speed networking modalities can also offer specific benefits over one another. Group-based speed networking, for example, provides the opportunity to meet a maximum number of people with less stress on the individual or repetition of your personal information.
- “Businesses try a form of speed dating” By Julie Bick, International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2007
- “Speed Networking for Business Success” By Terry Frerker, Excellence In Business, September 5, 2010
- PDF (111 KB)
- MacMillan Dictionary
- “Speed Dating For Suits” By Jena McGregor, BusinessWeek, September 11, 2006.
- “Three, Two, One—Network!” By Sonal Rupani, BusinessWeek July 18, 2007.
- “Speed Networking and Beyond” By Ivan Misner, Entrepreneur, June 28, 2007.
- “Speed Dating Giving Way to Speed Networking” By Nic Paton, Management-Issues, July 22, 2005.
- “How to Get the Most Out of a Speed Networking Event” By James Feudo, Overnight Sensation, March 14, 2009.