Networks play an important role in the way that business is conducted while speed dating has become a staple on the dating scene for people who want to meet for multiple short dates over the course of an evening. Although the end game is different, there are many parallels between these two activities.
Here are seven top tips on how to become a better networker, based on how to be a great speed dater.
1. Be preparedSpeeddaters invest massive amount of energy and expense selecting their outfits, styling their hair and thinking about how they’ll sum themselves up during their allotted minutes. When networking, think about how to describe your own role and your business in advance. Develop and practice a short way of summing it all up.
2. Learn to tune in to your opposite numberThose media- savvy speed-dating participants— whether that’s the Cosmo-reading ladies or FHM-loving lads – get plenty of advice on the dos and don’ts of relationship formation. When building a rapport in networking, listen and take an interest in what others have to say. When you do talk about yourself and your business, avoid any blatant sales pitches, but aim to interest people in who you are and what you can do.
3. Pay attention to names You’re not going to have a business (or personal) relationship with someone if you don’t get their name right. Pay attention when being introduced and when exchanging business cards, and use memory tricks you find work to help make the name stick.
4. Beat the bashfulness, control the conversation! Having a few stock questions up your sleeve is a great idea in business networking situations. Read up on the big news stories and offer or seek an opinion on these.
5. Bailing out, but gracefullyFor every Mr/Miss Right, there will invariably be a few wrong ’uns. You may find yourself in a business situation where the conversation is going nowhere or somewhere you don’t need it to go. On balance, it is best to extract yourself and keep mingling, but always be polite and never dismiss people entirely.
6. Feel the fear but do it anywayPart of the buzz of speed dating is the risk – without the fear of falling flat on one’s face, speed dating would ultimately be much less enjoyable. Networking for the new business person can be just as daunting but the more often you get out and network, the more confident you become and the better you get.
6. Competition versus co-operation Aim to know who else is in the room, whether potential partners or competitors. It is worth keeping an eye on who your competitors are speaking to – there might be a very good reason!
7. And what about the differences?Fortunately, unlike speed dating, many business networking events give you the option of speaking to the organisers to learn about other attendees ahead of time. Another key difference is that it’s best to go to a business event on your own. While speed daters seek mutual support in the company of their friends, you need to meet new people at business networking events, and should avoid staying in a crowd of familiar faces.
The best speeddaters and the best business networkers are decidedly nimble. They respond perfectly to every pull, prod and provocation of those they meet. They know how to work a room, talk on demand, tell of triumphs and travels, and are invariably brave, recklessly truthful, smart, funny and entertaining.
Get out there: your three minutes begin now!
*Anthony Patterson is senior lecturer and director of BA Marketing at the University of Liverpool Management School. The university is a key contributor to VentureNavigator, which is a free online business planning tool designed to help start-ups and small businesses improve their chances of success.