For a few years, speed dating events have popped up across the country. For those of you who have never experienced it, it’s where you are seated with a random stranger of the persuasion that you are searching (straight, gay, bi, etc.) and you have a few minutes to talk with that person and see if you’ve got a first impression that you’d like to get to know this person. If both of you indicated that you are interested, the people organizing it will supply you with each others contact information and you can take it from there.
Recently, I’ve been seeing more calls for Speed Networking. The idea is you get to talk with lots of people and that you are more likely to find someone out of the crowd who you actually have something in common with. I have been asked many a time to organize a Speed Networking event, and it just goes against just about everything that I teach as a career management professional. In fact, I did one last night. It was called Speed Networking, but I did it the way I think is more effective.
Here are my issues with Speed Networking:
- It’s Not Intentional: My big recommendation for any networking event is that you go into it with an intention of what information you want to get out of it, and to be specific about what you want. If you know what you want and can state it clearly (e.g. “I want a job in publishing” versus “I’m looking for information about the need for editorial assistant positions within the textbook publishing industry”) you are much more likely to get the information you want.
- Don’t Practice Approaching People: One of the major acts of networking is to approach people you might not know and be able to relate to them how you are similar. That’s a tough one, and one that we all need practice with. If you are placed with someone randomly, you don’t have to bring all that fortitude to actually make it happen. To be successful in this world, you need to learn how to do that, and a networking event is the sandbox where you should practice it.
- Chances Are High That You Won’t Meet Who You Want: By randomly being sat with people, the chances are much lower that you will talk with the people who have the information you are looking for. Granted, you should hopefully learn some skills about how to get some information out of random people, but I think that most people just turn off when they see that someone isn’t in the same field as them.
My whole goal in helping people with their careers is for them to get a sense of their own personal power to affect their futures, and “speed networking” makes it seem like they are powerless to the natural forces of the business world. I like to have what I call “focused networking” where I give enough structure to make it safe, but also put them in the situations where they are more likely to get the information they need. If you think that you will go to an event and hope that magic happens, you are probably going to be disappointed.
So, what is it that you’re looking for, and where are the places you can go to talk with those people who know something about it?