JOHNSTOWN – It may not be your grandfather’s networking event, but the results – lasting connections that can grow a business – can be the same or even better for professionals who don’t have time to attend after-hours gatherings.
In speed networking, the concept is similar to speed dating in which participants get a few minutes to speak to everyone in the room to find someone in whom they’re romantically interested.
With speed networking, the goal is to deliver an effective and brief pitch in a few minutes – known as the elevator pitch or speech – to form a mutually beneficial business relationship that can mean more leads for both parties. With proper follow up after the event, it can be the start of a profitable and beneficial relationship.
On Thursday, the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leads Group introduced its first speed networking event – “Speed Leads.”
At the morning networking event at Grandma Millie’s Bakery at the Fulton County Airport, participants sat in groups at tables and delivered their elevator pitches.
After everyone at the table had a chance to deliver their speech, they rotated to different tables to meet everyone in the room.
An effective elevator speech contains six components, according to a packet distributed by the chamber: identify your goal, explain what you do, communicate your unique selling proposition or what makes your or your company unique, engage your audience with a question, wrap it all together and practice to make the speech sound natural, not too much like a pitch.
At one table two Fulton County Federal Credit Union employees – President of Marketing and Business Development Deborah Shepard and Vice President of Sales & Member Services Brian White – started their session by swapping business cards with Danielle Whelly at the Career and Employment Network in Amsterdam.
Whelly started her position as program marketing coordinator two months ago while White started his position three weeks ago.
For both, the event seemed like an ideal opportunity to get to know other business professionals in the area.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this before, and I’m brand new to my role [at CEN],” Whelly said.
White is serving as a Chamber Leads Group member, a role that Shepard formerly held.
“I’m here supporting Brian since he’s now our Leads representative,” Shepard said.
Whelly started the session with her elevator speech, explaining the Career and Employment Network’s mission: connect local businesses with the workers they need and help with training once an employee gets a job.
For White, his pitch answered questions about low rates for auto loans and the difference between a bank and credit union.
“We’re local. Our decisions are made by local people,” White said. “At the credit union, you really get to know people.”
Chamber Events Administrator Sharon Jenkins said the Chamber of Commerce in the Albany area hosted speed networking events before, and with the increased membership – more than 1,100 now – in the merged chamber, the Leads Group felt members could use a new networking event to meet everyone from both counties.
“I think this is a really great start for something we’ve never done before,” Jenkins said.
The Speed Leads events could become quarterly or held every other month, depending on what the Leads Group decides after it meets in June. The group meets on the third Thursday of each month.
To start the event, Jenkins and Chad Wildermuth, Leads Group member representing Northwestern Mutual, gave an introduction to speed networking and talked about forming business relationships and the chamber’s Leads Group.
“We’ve bee trying to grow that Leads Group especially since the merger -trying to bring people together from the two chambers,” Wildermuth said. He said the group tries to get a representative from each professional field.
“It’s kind of first-come, first-serve. when it comes to the specific field that you’re in, so if we don’t have someone specific in your field already, then you’re a perfect fit for us. If there is a duplicate in the field, then we may start to build some other groups,” Wildermuth said.
The Leads Group meetings are usually slower paced than the speed networking event Thursday, Wildermuth said, since they all sit together and discuss current events, business and other topics.
Jenkins went through a packet with information about networking, highlighting the top reasons people resist networking like lack of confidence.
“No matter how many times you’ve done this still when you go to a room full of people it’s a little intimidating,” Jenkins said. “Once you break the ice, introduce yourself and get going, it gets easier.”
Other reasons include feeling too busy, expecting immediate results and the fear of selling or being sold to.
“Networking is so important. People don’t realize the connections you can build and the business you can build if you just get out there and meet people and get to know people,” Jenkins said.
Wildermuth said networking can lead to warm leads that make business run smoother than having to make cold calls. It’s about building a system of relationships, he said, as he recalled making 100 cold calls a day when he first started working.
“People want to do business with other people based on them hearing your name a lot. If you’re not meeting people and you’re keeping yourself a secret, shame on you for that because you’ve got something to offer the community and offer all the people who aren’t being approached. They need your services, so please consider that. Get your name out there,” Wildermuth said.
The pair also spoke about the three phases of relationship building: visibility, or creating a casual connection; credibility, or being worthy of confidence; and profitability, a mature relationship rewarding to both parties.