Networking events are, of course, great ways to meet people who can help you in your career. But what if the prospect of starting conversations with a series of random strangers brings you out in a cold sweat, or you end up spending the whole night stuck talking to a dullard who is no use whatsoever?
Increasingly, investment banks are turning to a decidedly quirkier option to connect people – speed-networking. The principle, like speed-dating, is to spend a few minutes talking to one person, or group of people, before a whistle sounds and everyone moves on to the next person. The idea is that you get exposure to as many people as possible, enabling maximum connections in a minimal amount of time.
Investment banks like Deutsche Bank and Barclays have recently hosted speed-networking events, as has fund manager M&G and most of the Big Four accounting firms. However, these are less about connecting with people across the financial sector, and more about developing relationships within the organisation.
“I’ve met a number of analysts who I now mentor this way, it’s a great way of meeting a lot of new people,” enthuses one managing director at a bulge bracket investment bank who attended an event last week.
The implication is that speed-networking events are a new way of connecting with the right people within the firm, who could possibly provide a leg-up with your career. In order to succeed, though, you need to follow the rules, according to those organising the events.
Any analyst who’s made it through an investment banking assessment centre should realise the rules you have to follow in order to succeed at group activities. These events generally have two to three analysts for every MD, so you need to balance getting some air time without arrogantly dominating proceedings.
“Extroverts do better in these scenarios, but it would be a mistake to talk over colleagues vying for the attention of an MD,” said Linda Jackson, managing director of outplacement firm 10Eighty, which organises speed-networking events for investment banks.
You should be able to find out who’s attending before the event, so scout ahead to find out who you think might be able to help. “Have an agenda – know who you want to speak to and what you want to ask them,” said Jackson.
Even if you go with an agenda, realise that not everyone will appreciated being shaken down for business cards and connections, even if the aim of speed-networking is clear. “Ask how you can help them,” advises Jim Hewitt, director of Business Connections, which organises speed-networking sessions in Canary Wharf. “Don’t put your salesman hat on – an event with all salesman and no buyers will go nowhere.”
At investment banking events, you could find people from the front office, but also HR and operations attending. At a more general event, there could be people from random areas of the business world. Closing yourself off to anyone who can’t immediately aid your situation would be a mistake, said Jackson.
“Often, more junior people find that senior people can help them indirectly – by putting them in touch with the right people, even if it’s after the event. Clock-watching until you can see move on to the right people is not the way to go.”
Again, this comes down to scoping the event beforehand, but find out something that a person you wish to connect with has done recently, and casually mention how impressed you were.
“One analyst told me that he had noted a change programme we’d recently implemented, and noticed a process improvement,” said the investment banking MD. “It was a clear attempt at flattery, but I was impressed by his research.”
The number one reason that people don’t get much out of speed-networking is that they simply use it as an opportunity to harvest business cards, but don’t follow up, said Hewitt. “Around 10% of people take the time to reconnect with people after the event. A simple email or phone call soon after the event will keep the connection warm. If you wait a few months, it’s become a cold connection again.”
Managing directors typically spend a couple of minutes explaining their roles to junior staff in order to break the ice. Don’t simply stand there nodding and smiling before launching into a pitch. “Show your interest, ask some intelligent and carefully-worded questions before trying to impose your agenda on them,” said Jackson.