High-speed professional schmoozing makes for contacts and new recruits in fraction of the time

Every Wednesday at a bar in Newcastle, England, about 20 people – men and women in suits – gather, a stack of business cards in their pockets. Holding drinks, they take a seat at a table to talk to the person across from them, but don’t stay there long. Every two or three minutes, they hear a bell, which signals that it’s time to move on to the next seat. This will happen all night. From a distance, the scene looks like a game of musical chairs, but the patrons of this bar have anything but fun and games on their minds. It’s called speed networking, an offshoot of the internationally popular speed dating, which works in much the same way: Participants meet, speak for a few minutes, then move on the next candidate, thereby meeting as many people as possible in the fixed time. Speed socializing has yet to take off in Greece, since people began organizing such meetings in Athens and Thessaloniki just a few months ago. But whereas speed dating satisfies an urge to flirt in an increasingly busy world, speed networking satisfies the need to keep up in an increasingly competitive world. Because of time constraints, it’s not enough for career men and women to network by attending seminars, conferences and meetings. And it’s rare to meet strangers at such events or outside work, give them a business card and have that lead to a new job opportunities. And since it’s an open secret that most people attend career-related seminars and conferences primarily to network, why shouldn’t there be events devoted entirely to networking? In mid-2004 in the United States and the United Kingdom, networking-only events began materializing. They involved mostly salespeople or buyers from large and small businesses, and the events helped them get to know each other and make valuable business contacts which could turn into working relationships. As in speed dating, speed networking works like this: The group is divided into pairs who sit at a table, mimicking a typical professional meeting, and exchange information about themselves and their professions. About every two to five minutes – the time intervals are set by the organizing group – a bell rings and the people move into new seats to network all over again. After an hour, people have made connections that would have normally taken six months to establish. At the end of the evening, people exchange business cards. Participants also fill out a card noting which people were exceptional for a particular business venture, so a more personal meeting can be arranged, often the next day. The British firm Contact25, one of the initiators of speed networking, says in a press release that the limited time makes people measure their words more carefully, so people actually get more out of the encounter without getting bored, as so often happens during real-time meetings. And as experts say, the more people you meet, the higher your chances of meeting someone with whom you can work well. The right people «It’s a great experience,» said Nick Valavanis, founder of the company onShore, based in Chicago, in a press release by the American firm Extreme Networking. «Prepare to meet a lot of people and to get a workout at the same time.» Indeed, it’s more important today to know «the right people» than to be in «the right place at the same time.» A good contact can do miracles to steer one into a successful career situation. In today’s world, the 30-euro cost of participating in speed networking seems like nothing if one considers the return. Even in Greece, with its small market, contacts between businesspeople often yield good results. «Quite often someone wants to communicate with a colleague at some other company with the idea of making a contact, but it doesn’t happen, maybe because the person is just never in the office or because that person’s secretary blocks any telephone calls for whatever reason,» Xenofontas Hasapis, the general director of Boussias Communications, told Kathimerini. «The reality is that it is important to build a good circle of contacts. That’s why people go to conferences, because there they can relax and talk more easily with people there.» Hasapis says speed networking appeals not just for professional reasons, but for psychological ones as well. «When employees at a business work on tight deadlines, at a pace that leaves no time for social events or even just to take a breather, they feel the need to go out with colleagues, not just for professional reasons, but also to feel like they aren’t the only people with the same problems. Even at conferences, they are elated to find themselves participating in something with people in the same field.» Hasapis himself has participated in speed networking sessions abroad. «Quite often, the organizers of conferences abroad arrive at this solution as a way to make sure the participants get a chance to get to know each other,» he said. Hasapis added that personally he didn’t like the experience because it seemed superficial. He also said he doesn’t think the trend will catch on in Greece, since the business world and market for networking is small. So Greece may not get to experience speed networking after all, even if it is catching on worldwide. The same may be said for speed recruiting, in which employers looking to hire size up their potential employees in a few minutes. As Contact25, the British firm, said in a press release about the latest truncated-time trend, «If you can decide in five minutes if someone is worth a second interview, why waste more time?»