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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. However speed business networking has been operating in Australia from 2003 and was developed by Australian entrepreneur Christine Sutherland as a way of facilitating easier business introductions. 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 above). 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 his or herself. Time at the table varies based on how the event organiser coordinate the event but usually last 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."
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.