Fostering Weak Ties And Speed Networking Tips For Your Conference


VCC’s VP of Professional Connexity, Sarah Michel, is the go-to-networker-guru. She lives and breaths networking and connexity.

She recently wrote about how weak ties can make conferences stronger and connexity, and has a series called Perfecting Connecting.

After reading her recent post, I had several questions about weak ties, speed networking and conferences. I wanted more clarity and understanding of the power of weak ties and 2nd and 3rd degree relationships. Here is Part 1 of my discussion with her.

1. Can you give us an example of a weak tie that paid off with huge benefits from your personal life?

Weak ties saved my life 8 years ago when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In that first week when a routine chest x-ray revealed a fast-growing tumor in my chest, it was weak ties (people I didn’t know very well or hadn’t talked to in years) that came through for me with connections, resources and information. They helped me get worked up, staged and started on my chemo course in less than 2 weeks.

Had I waited for the doctors, healthcare system and insurance to sort out the available providers and interventions I needed, I might not be here today. My Oncologist literally said to me, “I’ve never seen anyone get worked up this fast. How did you do this?” I told him, “Next time have your people call my people!”

I literally had to push myself outside of my sphere of influence and think, “Who do I know, who have I known from way back, or recently met, who might be able to help me?” There is the HUGE strength of weak ties.

2. If our weak ties are better sources of information because they are connected to more diverse sets of people, what types of conference experiences will help attendees connect to this diversity?

I gave several examples in my post and the best strategy is to utilize interactive speakers (or provide the education/training to make sure your speakers are encouraging peer-to-peer learning. This allows your conference participants to have the chance to meet weak ties during a session. Set your room for small group discussions and give instructions for attendees to pair up with someone they don’t know.

3. You mentioned in your post that weak ties were not typically formed by speed networking. Can you expound on that?

It’s possible that you could meet someone new in a speed networking session who shares some information with you or a quick resource that you didn’t know in that 1-2 minute meet-up. However, nothing would probably come of that unless you followed up with that person one on one after the speed networking session to learn more.

My recommendation to planners who want to offer speed networking is to plan a reception or “meet-up” immediately following the speed networking. This allows attendees to “circle back” and reconnect meaningfully, without a timer, and to explore their connection further.

I also recommend extending the meet-up time to 3-5 minutes and use ice breaker questions to ask each other. Questions like “How could I be a resource to you?” or “What is one of your biggest challenges right now at work?” will help accelerate their connection.

4. Should we drop speed networking from conferences or just tweak them and why?

Some people really like them and if facilitated well, they can be very useful. My problem with them is that they’re not usually facilitated well and it ends up doing more harm than good. It’s ok to have it as one of the many ways you’re going to deliver networking value at your conference. Just don’t let it be the only way.

Most people do not know how to network effectively. They see it as a “transaction” to get something from someone. Speed networking only reinforces that misconception. I call it “drive-by networking,” If you have a committee who really wants to offer speed networking than educate your attendees to listen first on how they could be a resource to the other person.

Coming in Part 2: Maximizing trust between conference weak ties, mining our weak ties and conference marketing tips to strong and weak ties.

Why do so many people thing think that collecting business card and short introductions to people are valuable? Which do you prefer, short interactions or deeper connections with conference attendees and why?

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