The Guide to Business Speed Dating (Made Simple!)

AerOceaNetwork AGM Cape Town 2018

Business Speed Dating is a great way to gain lots of hot prospects quickly.

If you are looking for a way to get in front of as many prospects as possible in a short, compacted time you might consider a form of in-depth sales prospecting known as business speed dating. Or perhaps you have heard of business speed dating but you might have business speed dating questions such as:

  • Is business speed dating a good method for me?
  • Why do business speed networking at all?
  • Can business speed dating help my company?
  • What do I need to do to have the most success possible from business speed dating?

Whether you plan to attend a speed networking event or whether you would like to organize one, this information should help you know what business speed dating is and what you should do and what you should be ready for.

Why don’t we just start from the beginning?

What is business speed dating?

Business speed dating is a method of face-to-face prospecting often known as speed business meetings and speed networking. Its aim is to get you in front of as many potential business clients and customers as possible.

And yes, the method does get its name from the speed dating people use to find potential soulmates. It is most likely that the idea for this type sales event actually came from speed dating, however, I also know that these meetings have been popular in the international logistics industry among overseas shipping agents for decades. (I should know. My company, Advanced International Logistics, is a leader in this industry!)

But this mode of running a business get together is definitely not confined to one industry and has found its way from its United States origins to taking place at business speed dating events around the world.

I have heard this method of meeting potential business associates compared to manning booths in exhibitions but this is not exactly the same. Yes, at a trade fair booth you do meet many people all day, over and over, but overall this is ad hoc whereas speed networking is planned and extremely methodical in nature.

What is the business speed dating format?

Well, to start off with, there isn’t a single format but most seem like musical chairs. Many variables are taken into the speed networking formats that go into the final organization of the business speed networking events.

Round RobinThese meetings are a bit more ‘take what you get’ type meetings. Normally you are in short meetings with random participants one-on-one sequentially. It is not abnormal for these meetings to be very short, between one to ten minutes, so you will need to have your elevator speech ready. Sometimes the layout is as simple as two lines of chairs facing one another that each side moves to the opposite direction when their time is up. Other times there will be an entire room laid out with business tables that are numbered.

Station-basedThis is when you are meeting specific pre-booked participants based on pre-assignments. In these kinds of meetings the scheduling is very intricate and meetings can take place generally as low a fifteen minutes up to thirty minutes. I have seen these also at one-hour intervals but that is very high. Thirty minutes is often the norm.  Though every time the end of an event comes the participants change tables, quite often if there are event sponsors involved they will have permanently assigned stations.

These events are most often in a ballroom (in a hotel or otherwise). The normal physical layout for this type event is in what I call a modified classroom set up. In the events industry a classroom set up is when you have small business tables set for a lecture with two tables on one side of the chair facing a podium. What I call the modified classroom set up entails the tables being spread out with more floor space than a normal classroom set up with two chairs on either side of the meeting table so the two parties can face one another with enough space to present their marketing materials. Quite often these materials are on laptops or tablets so the tables are definitely a requirement.

Group-basedThis is when you might be meeting with a preselected group and normally takes place within association events and business conferences. These also can take place at exhibitions. Due to the fact there are more people involved the timing structure for the meeting scheduler tends to be on the longer end of the spectrum.

What are the business speed dating rules?

“Rules” I am sure vary depending upon depending on the speed networking event that you are attending but there are a few common sense business speed meeting guidelines that we should all be careful to follow.

Speed Netwrking

How my company runs speed dating events

Divide your time so that you can get through the meeting with enough time with you to speak, the other party to speak and then to have a quick recap. For instance, if I was in a business speed meeting format of twenty minutes I would make sure that I had enough interesting to say about myself, my company and our products and services to last five to seven minutes. This would give my counterpart the same amount of time to present themselves. The remainder of our time should be spent in open, free flow conversation.

Make sure that you know what you are going to say to your counterparts in this event and that you have plenty of whatever marketing materials that you need on hand. If you plan to show a slideshow or video you should make sure that it is the proper length to match the meeting format and that it is ‘at the ready’ when you sit at the table. Also, for the slideshows, make sure that during the presentation this doesn’t become a conversation. That will slow up the meeting so the other attendee won’t have enough time to present his information.

Do not be late for your meetings and for Heaven’s sake never skip one of these meetings! This reflects poorly on you and your company and quite often achieves exactly the opposite of what you are trying to do with this kind of networking. Of course, some people are better natured than others but I have witnessed many times over the years where someone was late or a no show to one of the scheduled time slots where the meeting counterpart would refuse to ever consider dealing with the tardy or absent participant ever again. Many people are not forgiving about this.

What are some examples of business speed dating events?

Currently I live in Bangkok and I also travel all over the world arranging these speed networking meetings. I can tell you that there is a whole range of these events and organizers around the world so the answer is not that simple. There are as many type events as there are organizers.

Normally in my city often someone will organize business speed dating events for profit and these are normally done on a round robin business speed networking format. These are sometimes arranged by chambers of commerce or even individuals informally on a Facebook group or a MeetUp group. Others are arranged by associations and business networks, like the ones my own company organizes. More and more these days exhibitions also will arrange business speed networking to go along with their trade shows as well since so many visitors would have come from far away.

Should I make a business speed dating plan?

Of course you should! I always remind people of what Benjamin Franklin said:

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

So what would I do to prepare for a business speed dating?

Firstly, I would clearly define my objectives for your company. What is your goal in being there? Who would you really want to meet? Which participants could theoretically benefit you most? Which of the attendees could use your products or services or know somebody else who’d be a good fit for you? Write all of this down and make a game plan.

Business Speed Dating in Amsterdam

Business Speed Dating is an efficient way to meet a lot of prospects in a short amount of time.

Secondly, I would find out who is coming and what I can learn about the participants and their companies. Most good events will have this information for you already, though many times in round robin formats you will be hit and miss.

Station-based and group-based meetings can often be arranged in advance, even far in advance, with their own business meeting software. If there is an electronic online meeting scheduler, which all of my company’s meetings have, then I would take the people who you absolutely know you want to meet and invite them to 50% of your scheduled meeting slots. I would then wait until the next to the last day to fill out any empty slots.

Why would I do that? Simple. Because I don’t know who in that group would be looking to meet a person or company with my specific capabilities. If you book your slots entirely then you won’t know who could have been a potential client. By the same token, if you book very few slots and let the other participants fill out your schedule for you then you will potentially have several meetings that are no good to you, you won’t get all the people you need to fill out your company goals for the meeting and you will also potentially have several open slots. In the logistics industry we say that the most expensive truck is the one carrying no cargo. At a business speed dating meeting the worst outcome you can have is to have lots of empty slots.

What follow up should I have after the business speed networking event is over?

I always do the following:

  1. Send a follow up, thank you and good to meet you email. I often have these pre-written before I leave. You can do these manually, through a mail merge or whatever other system that you might have for this.
  2. Add the new contacts to your CRM. (If you don’t have one you’d better get one or come up with your own system lickety-split!)
  3. Compare the new acquaintances to the goals that you set for this event and determine how they fit into that.
  4. Because everyone who went to the event will be busy juggling their follow-ups as well if you and your new prospect haven’t already been in some form of regular contact, I normally give them two weeks to get settled then I contact them back again to find out what is going on with them, to give them an update of what is going on with you and to see if there is a way to move forward.

You have to do the follow up. This is where most people will fail, guaranteed. Follow up is follow through. If you follow up and your competitor doesn’t, who is in the driver’s seat? But the same goes vice versa: If your competitor follows up and you don’t? The opportunity will be gone and your efforts will be for naught. I tell this to all of the members of my business networks that we manage and sadly I fear the majority ignore this advice. If you, however, are not the one who ignores the advice then you have an advantage of most people in the room.

Take that advantage.

Why should startup companies specifically need to go to speed networking events?

How do startups benefit from speed networking? Well, business speed networking is especially good for new startup companies because newer companies aren’t as well known in their industry, in their neighborhoods, in their cities. Business speed dating will get you a number of prospects quickly and you will also have a good idea right away of which ones are hot and which ones are cold so you will know exactly who to spend your time on.

By the same token you will be able to get in front of many business people who you won’t have to doorknock to meet their companies. You will know them on a first name basis and they will know you on a first name basis. It won’t be a long relationship but it will be potentially the start of many relationships. You should gain fruitful and profitable business and even personal relationships in a much shorter amount of time.


Where are the main business speed dating locations?

Honestly, these could be anywhere that the business speed meeting organizer would want to hold it. I have found that hotel ballrooms are the best for the larger meetings. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Hotel ballrooms won’t have loud distractions like many other venues might.
  2. Good four and five star hotels will have a professional atmosphere for business events.
  3. Hotels will have the equipment needed for the event (chairs and tables for the modified classroom arrangement, microphones, projectors, etc.)
  4. Hotels can provide package deals for events like this. In the industry parlance it is called a ‘day delegate rate’, which means not only the ballroom and the chairs set up but also a morning coffee, lunch and afternoon coffee – and sometimes even breakfast snacks early on.

As I mentioned before, often these events are held in exhibition centers in conjunctions with trade shows as well. These tend to be much noisier venues but are still in professional settings. For smaller, more local, local speed networking events any kind of venue from classrooms to churches, to YMCAs to local restaurants are used. If you are planning to arrange one of these events you will need to ensure that you definitely make it in a relatively comfortable venue that isn’t too noisy.

What business speed dating software is out there?

If you are planning to organize business speed dating events as a business you would do ever well to look into specific software. Many people try to get by on paper systems of systems they invent on Excel spreadsheets. If they can do that, more power to them. It is my experience though that you will make many basic mistakes and will wind up looking unprofessional in the eyes of the attendees.

To be quite honest, my company has always had to develop its own in house software. We do this to specifically meet the needs of our own customers. Also, because we do several events around the world every year so even though our business networking format might be similar, at the same time there could be other changes to the schedules.

That said there is a number of softwares out there on the market for anyone who might be interested in. If you are an organization, association or business network you would not just be looking for a meeting scheduler but also a program that allows you members to network before, during and after the events (which our in house software does). You might consider the following:

In conclusion…

I trust this information gives you a much better idea about business speed dating and its benefits for your company. If there is any way that I can help you in your path then you can reach me directly by email, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. I will follow up for sure.


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