Faced with a rather sturdy man in a bomber jacket, it dawned on me that I had read the invitation wrong and this was not in fact a speed dating event.
That said, by the end of the Chamber of Commerce’s speed networking businesses event, I felt the elation of having just enjoyed a good night out. I felt ready to do business myself. The sheer buzz in the place and the atmosphere of posivity kind of rubbed off on me, despite having just endured a tough day meeting deadlines in the newsroom.
I’ve attended business events of all kinds over the years - some interesting, some informative but many downright boring. This engagement, however, was very different. Everyone wanted to be there - at least they seemed to, everyone had a story to tell - however brief, and most importantly everyone got straight to the point. There’s no messing around in a three minute conversation. There’s no room for waffle in each individual’s time allocation of a minute and half, but I tried, of course.
Each time speed networking umpire, Chamber CEO Sinead McLaughlin, blew her whistle it was time to jump to the next chair and go face to face with someone new at the long table of eager decision makers from a broad range of industries.
After I’d told my victims all about the great brand of the ‘Derry Journal’, “one of the world’s oldest newspapers and advertisers, you know . . . ” I asked each one about the value of such brief encounters for their business.
The resounding belief I encountered in the relaxed conversations was that the term ‘it’s who you know’ is as important in businesses nowadays as it ever was. The single greatest challenge facing most people in businesses - in particular new start-ups - is meeting the right people, the decision makers. The whole ethos of the speed networking is to provide a relaxed environment to do just that.
More than 70 people - who included ten new start-up firms - attended last Thursday night’s event, hosted by City of Derry Airport and organised by the Chamber’s Events and Export Manager Christina McCallion.
A minute and a half with serial speed networker Tony Jackson, of Tony Jackson Financial Solutions, left me in no doubt as to how such gatherings boost his business. “These events are the single most important events in helping to grow my business. It’s all about meeting people and speed networking allows me to meet as many people under one roof in as fast a time possible. I’m a one man band so these events represent the most efficient use of my time.”
Martina McAuley, of local consultancy firm HR Team, said the event provided a great opportunity. “This is time well spent for any company. It’s really beneficial to have the opportunity to let other businesses know about our range of human resource management services in such an informal setting.”
Gavin Callaghan, of The Sign Place, at Callaghan’s of Burt was “giving it a go” for the firt time. “We’re trying to generate more business from the North and thought this was a good way to let people know. I thought I’d come along and see what happens.”
Helen Hughes, Sales Executive at Hastings Hotels, described speed networking as “invaluable” in terms of getting to know a wide range of potential customers.
City Cabs Director James Deehan said the event was a great way to meet potential clients. “It’s relaxed environment and great way to meet so many people in a short space of time,” he said.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Sinead McLaughlin said the importance for people in businesses of taking part in speed networking events has been proven time and time again. With the event at an end, Sinead finally set her whistle - which been sounding throughout the two hour long event to move the networkers along - to the one side. “There was a real buzz tonight,” she said.
“We had more tha 70 businesspeople here, it was a really good event. Networking is the lifebloood of businesses.”