by Christina Wilson, Senior Assistant, INALJ Canada
previously published 7/15/13
Boldly Go “Speed Networking” and Beyond ….
Embarking on a job search has given me courage to boldly go where I’d never think to go before. On a Wednesday night in early June, this quest took me to my first ever speed networking event. Organized by the Greater Edmonton Library Association (GELA), and held in an Edmonton Public Library (EPL) program room, the event was kicked off by keynote speaker and self-described “marketing coach for hippies,” Tad Hargrave. The speaker related his insights into professional networks, gleaned from personal experience in the non-profit and activist sectors. His funny, engaging and relevant talk perfectly set the tone for a low key, effective and fun evening of networking.
Afterwards, the organizers reviewed the rules of engagement for speed networking and then the game was afoot. I soon found that I was not alone in being a newcomer to speed networking, which helped to engage all participants further. GELA organizers had done their homework by sending out helpful reminders and resource materials prior to the event. These resources were so helpful that I’ve condensed them into the tips below, which are useful for any networking event: speedy, conference or other.
What is speed networking, you ask? The definition used by GELA, derived from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education is: “… an efficient, face-to-face professional networking model, similar to “speed dating,” that enables participants to make new contacts through one-on-one focused conversations lasting between 2-5 minutes.”
Tip 1: Bring business cards! They are an important item to give to your partners so they remember you and for you to use to make notes on regarding each contact you meet. As an unemployed librarian without my organization’s business card, I created two styles of cards from regular card stock that focused on my various purposes for attending the networking event (further on this in Tip 3). I wanted to meet working librarians who might help me network into my next career and also promote the Alberta page of www.INALJ.com . Both cards were plain, with lots of blank space allowing my contacts room for notes. Some of the cards that I received provided creative ideas for presenting their subjects. My favourite was a data visualization graphic that underlined the expertise and interest of its subject, a new MLIS graduate.
Tip 2: Prepare an “elevator speech”. During speed dating, as in real life, you only have a couple of minutes to tell your story. This was one of the most helpful parts of the evening, from my perspective. We had 4 to 5 minutes to confer, with each partner spending 2 minutes on their talk. This meant that I gained valuable practice time telling my story at least 12 to 15 times that night. I covered accomplishments (work and otherwise), interests and passions in a succinct and memorable manner. By focussing on my career highlights, using humour and body language, I attempted to be memorable and received immediate feedback. I truly believe that this practice helped me to hone a talk that paid off in a job offer one week later!
Tip 3: Plan your encounters. I thought about the kinds of connections I wished to make. Although modeled on speed dating, in which you achieve your goal through eliminating possibilities and focusing on a handful of potential “matches”, speed networking’s goal is to meet as many people as possible to make connections. The value of those connections may or may not be immediately apparent, so you need to have an open mind, be bold, be true and keep the principal of “six-degrees of separation” uppermost in your mind.
Tip 4: Follow up. Afterwards, take time to follow up with people with whom you particularly clicked with, either immediately after through a follow up email the next day, or better yet, via LinkedIn. You will be reading about some of the people that I connected with as I profile them, and their career paths, in upcoming articles.
I highly recommend participating in a speed networking event near you. It proved to be a low pressure, inexpensive, efficient and rewarding way to grow my network. For an organization, organizing a speed networking event creates opportunities for members and the local information community to make connections, meet new people and strengthen links locally and in person. The GELA event attracted students, librarians, library technicians, library board members, vendors, records managers, archivists and other archives workers, activists and school library workers interested in making connections within the community. Its purposefully broad scope encouraged representation from many sectors allowing participants to meet people outside of their usual networks. Apart from expanding my network, helping me to practise “my story”, where else would I learn about, and then be asked to join, a co-ed basketball team, made up of library workers for the summer. This was a completely unexpected win-win outcome from the GELA speed networking event. And by the way, my new team clicked sufficiently to win the game that we played the next night – a great way to follow up from our speed networking experience!