The room was hot, unbearably so. Was it the executive suite’s lack of air-con? Or was everyone perspiring at the thought of being forced to interact with strangers at 9.30 in the morning?
“Don’t go to speed networking events looking for new clients,” the YouTube video I’d watched the day before had told me. “Look to expand your network”. If expanding my network meant saying good morning to the catering lady as I poured myself a glass of water, I was off to a good start.
I found myself a spot out of the sun and flicked through the event booklet, to keep myself looking busy, and keep my mind off the distinct possibility that ever-larger sweat patches were appearing under my arms.
A motivational speaker-type stood in front of a projector screen announced that the speed networking was about to begin, so could we all find a spot at a table.
The layout wasn’t what I’d expected. In my head, I’d imagined lots of little tables that we’d move around every couple of minutes. Instead, we were all sat around large wedding reception-style tables (eight to a table).
Did it make it better or worse that we had to pitch ourselves to seven other people at once rather than just one? I was too taken with the motivational speaker’s brilliantine teeth to work it out.
I plonked myself down at the nearest, emptiest table. I struck up a conversation with a young girl from Nottingham who told me that her business had free yo-yos on their stand in the expo downstairs.
Did you know that there are such things as touring yo-yo artists that you need to book months in advance?
“Anyone know anywhere I can get some food?” asked one bloke in a dressed-in-a-hurry suit as he sat down. No-one was sure. “Not gonna lie,” he said, “I was only here for the free breakfast and I’ve missed it. I’ve got no business cards, nothing.”
Before anyone could console him, Mr. Motivator was telling us how it worked. He’d blow a whistle and we then had a minute to do our elevator pitch and dole out our business cards. When he blew again, the next person would do their elevator etc.
The pitches began clockwise from the other side of the table. The first person spoke so quietly that I didn’t hear what they were saying. The whistle blew. A business card ended up in front of me.
The second person started, my mind wandered to what I was going to say. Another business card.
The whistle blew. The bloke who had neither breakfast nor business cards gave an impassioned speech about apprenticeships. The whistle blew. No business card (obviously).
A pleasant lady spoke about the high-class hotel she represented. I pondered on the stories I’d heard about said hotel, mostly involving vice and indiscretion. The whistle blew. I think there was a business card.
Silence. Oh, was I meant to start? I’d got into my head that another whistle was going to blow to say ‘go’. I bulldozed my way through the little speech I’d been practicing in the car, remembering to make eye contact with at least some of the table. The whistle blew as I garbled my last sentence and threw my business cards at people.
Phew. One down.
Once everyone had had a go we all swapped tables. Trying to stay out of direct sunlight I ended up on a table with only five people. One of them had got up at 5am and travelled from Lincoln for this. Poor sod. I mean, I’d got up at 4 to let the cat out, but I’d at least been able to go back to bed for a couple of hours.
I pitched first to get it out the way. The bloke opposite refused my business card. Nice.
The next person forgot what they were there to pitch but remembered their joke at the end.
I didn’t really hear what the others said because I was ruminating on the bloke opposite refusing my business card. I pondered refusing his, but then he didn’t offer any, the tight so-and-so.
With other tables still pitching, we sat in semi-awkward silence until it was time to rotate again.
Ending up on a table with three people I’d already sat with, the final round was largely a case of marking time and everyone collecting business cards for things they had no interest in.
Thankfully, at the last second it turned out that there was another – far more successful – copywriter on the table. Once the pitching was done, I grabbed some water – all that self-promotion gives you a thirst – and made a beeline for her. We sat nattering for a good ten minutes or so about how we didn’t like speed networking.
In conclusion: I didn’t like speed networking. No-one likes speed networking. Everyone feels they have to speed network because everyone else does. The only people who profit are motivational business guru types and Vistaprint.
That said, I met someone who gave me really good advice on how to progress in freelance copywriting. The event over, I went down to the expo to get a yo-yo and as many free pens as it took to justify the £14 I’d spent on speed networking.