What Would Slow Networking Look Like?
Speed Networking is a meeting format with a structured activity where individuals are paired for a short period of time (e.g. 5 minutes) and then switch to someone new each time a bell rings. Speed networking has become popular because people are in need of more opportunities and spaces to meet others. Conferences and large corporations organize speed networking initiatives to facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas and people. At first glance, the benefits seem clear. In the span of an hour you can meet a dozen new people – any of which could be a sales opportunity, a mentor, or a business partner for a new joint venture.
But relationships are not acquired through an instantaneous process. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, has a great article in Entrepreneur, “Speed Networking and Beyond” which highlights some of the drawbacks and how to make the most of these sorts of events. He presents three stages on how to build relationships that last: Visibility, Credibility, Profitability. He concedes that while speed networking is a great way for the visibility stage, to build solid relationships one can’t stop there.
Misner’s advice is spot on – if you are going to a speed networking event. But his recommendations hint at a larger problem with how the process of speed networking events fits with how relationships form. With a nod to Carl Honore, I’d like to propose a better solution could be “slow networking.”
While “slow” is typically seen as inherently negative and suboptimal (think “slow” service at a restaurant), in his phenomenal Ted Talk, Carl highlights how we have been captivated by speed and instant gratification.
Right across the world, people are doing the unthinkable: they’re slowing down, and finding that, although conventional wisdom tells you that if you slow down, you’re road kill, the opposite turns out to be true: that by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better.
So what would slow networking be like? We can’t simply extend the duration of each meeting or else we’d be left with multi-hour network events. But there is another alternative and I would propose a good place to start would be “Randomised Coffee Trials,” the simple and flexible process Jon Kingsbury and I devised in 2012 at Nesta, the UK innovation foundation. Participants opt-in and each month they receive an introduction to someone new to meet up over coffee.
In contrast to the speedy variety, participants do not need to all be in the same place at the same time. And since they are meeting one person at a time they are able to engage in more substantive conversation because they are not negatively impacted by the pending bell any moment. Sherry Turkle’s research has shown that even just having a cell phone on the table between two people can negatively impact the conversation due to the threat of being interrupted at any moment. Imagine the negative impact of knowing a bell will be ringing every five minutes to signal the end of the conversation.
A final benefit is that slow networking would infuse the benefits of meeting new people throughout the year rather than having a flurry of activity around a single event engulfed by relative networking slumber.
If you have a large group of people that you are trying to help foster greater internal connections and mixing, don’t host a speed networking event. Take your time to do it right, let’s slow network.