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 a set time period (generally one to two minutes), the outside group of people gets up and moves in one direction around the circle until everyone has met.

As founder of the world’s largest business referral and networking organization, I would like to share some opinions and ideas I have formed over the years on how to best use speed networking as a tool for creating viable referral partnerships.

Visibility

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 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 you 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.

Not Speed Dating!

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 only with the ones you connect with during the exercise.

This speaks to why I am entitling this article “Speed Networking…and Beyond.” If you use speed networking as a means of eliminating potential referral sources, you’re not using it to its full potential. If you’re familiar with my material at all, you already know how I feel about “poaching” at business events, or “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!

How do you go about participating in a speed networking exercise with the proper focus in order to fully benefit from your time 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.

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— and you will be thinking with the end result in mind. While you will not, realistically, be able to become close friends with every person you do the exercise with, you do increase your potential referral sources by being introduced to many people in one setting.

2. Conduct the Exercise as a Mini-Interview with Your New Contact

Focus on what you can find out about the person that will give you the knowledge you need in order to help further her goals. Forget about “mining her database” or trying to determine who she knows who can further your goals. Make the conversation all about what she is interested in and what she is 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 assist your new referral source.

3. Make Notes during the Exercise

If you are not provided with some type of contact card on which to jot notes during the exercise, be sure to use your own notebook to write down the items you discover about the person. Write down the areas of interest or goals where you might be able to serve so that you will remember them later.

4. Follow Up

Be sure you collect the business card of each person you sit with during the speed networking exercise. This will allow you to follow up with those you meet—an essential condition without which you will have succeeded only in wasting your time.

The magic is going to happen after the exercise, in the weeks and months to come. Set appointments with each person, not to sell them or 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.

With these points in mind, you will realize that speed networking can be a fun, energetic, dynamic way to further your own goals of having a thriving, successful referral business—if it’s done the right way.



DR. IVAN MISNER is the founder of BNI, the world’s
largest referral organization with thousands of
chapters in dozens of countries around the world.
His new book,
Masters of Success can be viewed at
www.networkingtimes.com/link/misner