Speed networking is a simple technique for getting all participants in a meeting to reflect on a question and share their insights with others in small group conversation. Speed networking is a great way to generate energy at the beginning of a meeting by providing an opportunity for everyone to speak early on.
Steps in Speed Networking
Ask everyone to stand up, leave their belongings behind, and move into a space where there is some room for everyone to stand comfortably and still be able to walk around—ideally an open space with no tables or chairs.
Invite everyone to think individually about a provocative question that relates to the purpose of the meeting or the group. Make it a question that levels the playing field and for which there is no “right” answer—something that everyone in the group has an equal ability to talk about.
Tell participants that when they hear the bell, they should find a partner. Explain that partnering with a person they know less well than they know others will be most interesting. Invite the pairs to have a conversation about the suggested question. After a short time (5-10 minutes depending on how much total time you have), ring a bell or use some signal to let participants know it is time to find another partner and have another conversation.
Ask participants to raise their hand if they are looking for a partner so everyone can see who else needs a partner. Three “rounds” are usually sufficient to allow for a lot of mixing and conversation.
Tell participants that when the bell rings continuously, they should stop their conversation and come back to the large group. Have a short large group conversation about what the participants experienced in the exercise.
One distinct benefit of speed networking with a large group is that the process allows everyone to speak early in the meeting. The distance between not having said anything and making a first comment is vast. But the distance between having said something and saying another thing is much smaller.
In the discussion, ask if participants noticed how much “air time” everyone has had. In a 30 minute session, everyone will have had 12-15 minutes of air time – no matter how many participants are in the meeting.