Greetings. A few weeks ago I was invited to facilitate a "speed networking" event for the French-American Chamber of Commerce. A chance to help forty successful and extremely busy business professionals connect with each other in the hope of building new and productive business relationships. And a chance to test some of my latest thinking about how to connect with strangers in a more than superficial way by turning the notion of business networking on its head. Thinking that has been influenced by more than 8,000 years of history from around the globe.
Mind you, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Assyrians or native peoples of the Western Hemisphere would never have invented speed networking. They all knew that building relationships takes time, patience, and a willingness to get to know what really matters to someone. But then, they didn't live in a time of high tech, high touch, high energy, high definition, high octane, and higher stress. A time when time was constantly of the essence and it was essential to size up other people in less than a moment of–dare I say–superficial conversation. No, unlike us, our ancestors didn't always have places to go, people to see, deals to make, and another networking event to zoom through on the way home.
You get the picture. And as a result, most business professionals go to networking events much like dogs wander through a park. Quickly sniffing the bushes along their way with the dream that they will catch the scent of a lead and make a quick connection that turns into business. Hope springs eternal.
So there I was, given exactly four minutes to get total strangers to begin to build a meaningful relationship before they moved on to the next stranger, and the next. And so what did I ask them to do? Spend their four magical minutes together not talking about business at all. Not bombarding each other with superficial questions and superficial answers about the one thing they came to talk about. No slogans, taglines, 30-second infommercials, or summaries of their resumes. No elevator speeches about their jobs, business objectives, unique value propositions, or the amazing benefits of doing business with their companies. No, instead I asked them to simply spend four minutes finding 10 things they had in common that had absolutely, positively nothing to do with work. Just so they could make a human connection and, in doing so, figure out if there was a more substantive basis for connecting, talking further, and then possibly building a business relationship. In four short minutes. At a speed that would rival Usain Bolt.
And what they discovered was the joy of meeting another person without the stress of having to talk shop. The joy of connecting at a much easier and deeper level.
We win in business and in life when we understand the real basis for building relationships that matter. And when we realize that each of us has at least ten things in common with every other person on earth.