One of the first unconference style events I participated in was the Silicon Valley BrainJam in 2005 at SRI. Once everyone arrived they divided us into two groups and put us in two circles of chairs facing each other. We had 5 minutes to introduce each other and talk about the project that we are currently working on, after the people on the outer ring of chairs stayed put and the inner circle moved one place up.
Just like, you guessed it, at speed-dating. After the second switch I really got tired of hearing myself telling my life story. Boring. I thought there got to be a better way.
In the afternoon I was in a work group with 5 other participants. We briefly told everyone who we were and then dived deeper into our theme. This one was so much more interesting and there it clicked.
Instead of one on one, let’s do 5-6 people at the same time sitting around a small enough table, so that people can easily hear each other. You introduce yourself and 5 instead of one person listens. Like broadcast instead of telephone line.
You have 15 to 20 minutes enough for everyone to talk for a couple of minutes. The discussions runs much more freely and during these 15 minutes you get to a level of familiarity, that even the biggest introverts open up and the activity level in the sessions shoots through the roof: Much more interactive.
This is how the Speed Networking idea was born. If you do three rounds of these, you can get to know 15 new people on a pretty solid level, multiply that with everyone present and it is quite amazing. (Check out never eat alone if you want to know how important your network is.)
Once a year SAP brings together their top internal developers for the Developer Kick Off Meeting(DKOM). Later in 2005 I got approached by the organizing team and they said something like: “You are the community guy, we have an hour in our program, do some community! What do you suggest?” I kid you not.
I thought about it for a while and especially about the essence of bringing hundreds of people from all over the world to one place. There is so much unnecessary doubble work because people are not connected enough.
I pitched my speed networking idea, but the shutters probably went down right after I said it is like speed dating. Non of them wanted to pitch that idea to the board 🙁
Oh well, I just had to try it out at my own event then and I am grateful that my boss gave me leeway to try things, even if they sound far out. So we implemented Speed Networking at the SDN Day last year and it worked really well. The engagement level of everyone at the event clearly picked up afterwords and I felt that that energy spilled over into TechEd and the clubhouse.
Months later I got approached by my Rollerhockey buddy Harald Weppner approached me. He had heard that the SDN Day (now known as Community Day 😉 was a great event and he wanted to know what the ingredients for that success were.
I told him that one of the cornerstones were Speed Networking and he was skeptical at the beginning, but when I promised to run it he agreed to give it a try and it worked. People really liked it.
We have fine tuned our approach over the last year, will do an open round and then put little flags with topics on the tables, so that the people that are interested in let’s say scripting language find each other easier.
Can’t wait for this year’s speed networking at the Community Days. This time I will make sure to participate at least in one round. Don’t forget to sign up.