How To Throw A Networking Event - Speed Networking

So it’s all the craze these days in the business world: Speed Networking!

Well, first of all, what is speed networking?

Speed networking is any structured networking event that intentionally facilitates you meeting as many people as humanly possible within a given time frame. Speed networking can take many forms from slightly organized chaos in a crowded room to an orderly table and chair situation.

At Office Evolution Troy, we have hosted many a speed networking event with some grand successes and some underwhelming events. We are here to help you learn from our mistakes with this listicle of all of our secret tips and tricks.

Rule #1 – Make It Free

For the vast majority of participants and hosts, there is really no reason to make your speed networking event cost anything to attend. Good free networking events are easy to find if you know where to look and any price tag other than free will discourage many who would otherwise attend.

For Office Evolution Troy, any business owner could make a great client so for us, the more the merrier.

A case could be made for invite only or pay to play events for high net worth or industry specific/ exclusive events. Events like these come along regularly but I have never seen this type of event presented as speed networking. Depending on the host, paying to attend a highly curated event might be worth the expense but in my experience, you can connect with just about anyone for free if you network enough.

How To Monetize A Free Event

If you really need to monetize your event or you want to cover the cost of the food and snacks, consider finding a presenting sponsor. You did all of the work to host an event, you have successfully gathered a captive audience and there are absolutely people in your professional network that would pay $50-100 (or more!) to talk to that audience for 10-15 minutes.

Since we have been hosting networking events consistently for several years, we have professionals in our network reach out to us regularly looking to be the presenting sponsor at our networking events but don’t be afraid to put out feelers when you start to host. At the start of your event, give your own 5-10 minute presentation about your product or business. When you are done speaking, put it out there to your audience with something like, “We are always looking for 10-15 minute presenters at our events so please let me know if you would be interested in presenting at our next event!”

You will definitely get a lot of people declining and you might have to offer the presenting opportunity to your current clients as a perk or gift but that is still a great win-win situation. Yes, you still have to pay for your snacks but you brought value to your client and that might net you more business later in another form.

Rule #2 Have Snacks & Drinks

EVERYONE loves some good snacks and drinks, especially when they are free. Now, you don’t have to go all out on anything. A box of bagged snacks from Costco in a nice basket, a couple bottles of water, a dozen canned sodas and ALWAYS COFEE will go a long way.

In my experience, most people will not even look twice at anything you put out. I have made charcuterie boards, I have bought too many pizzas and I have had many open bottles of untouched wine to drink through but I will always have something for my attendees to eat and drink.

Think about it. If you host your networking event during lunch time and don’t even provide bagged snacks (we usually get a couple pizzas) or have an early morning event without coffee, you will have a lot of unhappy networkers. Maybe they won’t complain to you but I have been to several networking events without coffee and you would think someone had committed a mortal sin.

Rule #3 Pick A Good Time & Day Of The Week

As a host, I strongly discourage early morning events. Yes, people will come, but the hosting stress so early in the morning does not make for a great work day. Typically, I like to recommend no earlier than 10 or 11 AM as a start time. Everyone is awake, the kids are dropped off at school and the event is early enough that most professionals could justify going straight there without having to stop at the office first.

Another great time of day is 3-5 PM. This is late enough in the day that most professionals will appreciate the opportunity to dip out of the office early and if your event is on their way home, all the better. I like to structure these more as a pseudo cocktail hour with a charcuterie (no more than $30 worth of cheese, meat, crackers and vegetables from Aldi) and a couple bottles of wine (also from Aldi) and call it a party.

Anytime after 5 pm should also be avoided and any event that doesn’t even start until after 6 PM on a school day should be forbidden. If you stick to 11 am – 5 pm for your events, generally any weekday is a good bet. Avoid major holiday weekends if at all possible as well to get the highest turnout.

Rule #4 Use Eventbrite

Eventbrite is the best kept secret to finding great networking events. Not only do the events appear on Eventbrite but there are dozens of aggregators that scrape data from Eventbrite and copy it onto their own sites bringing even more organic traffic and awareness to your event.

Yes, Eventbrite does cost money to post an event with more than 25 attendees. For speed networking events, I usually choose the lowest paid tier for $9.99 per published event. I always have over 25 people register to attend our speed networking events and usually at least half of registered attendees actually show up.

Another perk of Eventbrite is you can collect registrant’s email addresses for your email marketing.

Rule #5 Have Name Tags 

A stick on name tag is always welcome and most of my attendees usually fill one out and stick it on their chest.

How To Run A Speed Networking Event

Ok, so now you know the basics of hosting a networking event in general, but how do you actually run the speed networking part?

Format #1 – Organized Chaos

Many hosts do not have the space or furniture to host a seated event. In this case, all you need is pieces of paper with colors, shapes, letters or numbers to hand to each attendee as they arrive. I have seen decks of cards cut in half, colored poker chips and even children’s toys used effectively.

In order to get everyone’s attention, we have a speaker and microphone but yelling loudly, a hand chime or any loud-ish unique noise will do.

The rules of the networking are simple:

  1. You have 5-10 minutes to chat with your partner
  2. When the bell rings, you have to stop and go to the next person as instructed.
  3. Repeat

How To Determine The Next Partner Situation

If you choose to do colors (Blue, Green, Purple, Pink) and shapes (Triangle, Square, Circle, Star), your pairings could look something like this:

Round 1: Blues Find Reds, Pink Find Purples

Round 2: Stars Find Squares, Triangles, Find Circles

Round 3: Blue Find Pink, Purple Find Red

Round 4: Star Finds Triangle, Circle Find Square


There is really no wrong answer, the shapes & colors could be numbers, animals, office supplies or anything your imagination can come up with.

One of the biggest benefits to the organized chaos is that people can join late and leave early with almost no impact on the active participants.

Example Of Organized Chaos >>>> 


Format #2 Seated

This format was my original introduction to the speed networking event. Typically, the tables are arranged in a circle and either the inside or outside rotates during each round.

If you have frequent attendees, I always recommend grouping them either on the inside or outside so they can mix and match with new people more effectively.

This format is great because you don’t need to prepare in advance, you just have people sit and they move around on their own (in theory).


Speed Networking Challenges

People Are Not Getting Up!

Don’t fret, this is a common issue with speed networking. You only get 5-10 minutes to chat but what if you still have things to say and you don’t want to get up and just 5 more minutes!?! Gently guiding your hosts with a gentle hand or tap on the shoulder and let them know, “Hey, glad you are found a great connection! Be sure to make sure you have each other’s card and reconnect at the end to set up another 1 to 1 meeting to keep this going!”

Speed networking is not that serious and if the pair really don’t want to swap, let them have a second or third round! Networking is all about connecting. Your guests making quality connections is the whole point of any networking event that you host so don’t be too harsh on anyone that doesn’t want to move on from their most recent partner. I definitely recommend encouraging them to swap as sometimes one person wants to keep talking and the other really wants keep moving and your interruption can sometimes allow one party to make a graceful and quick exit if they are too shy to move on.

What if my frequent attendees are not meeting new people?

This can happen with any serial networking event. You have guests that show up almost every time and the more mature your networking event becomes, the larger this cohort of attendees can become. One thing that I have been doing recently is connecting with the frequent attendees during each meeting and asking, “Is there anyone in the room that you want to meet that you haven’t yet?” I will then personally escort and introduce the pair so they can make a new and possible fruitful connection.

Pro Tip – Have A Handout With Networking Stimulants

One struggle that I have encountered during networking events is professionals that are ‘bad’ at networking. No one is really bad at networking. It’s not hard but it can take some practice to become comfortable. Something that I gotten consistently positive feedback on is a networking stimulant handout.

Some things you can include in your networking stimulant handout could be:

  1. Describe a great client
  2. Where did your last great referral come from?
  3. What does a bad referral look like?
  4. Describe the last client that you turned down for service and why.
  5. What other networking events or groups do you regularly engage with?
  6. How did you find yourself in this line of business?

The networking stimulants can really be anything. Remember, the whole point of networking for you to create connections, build relationships and learn about the other person’s business so you can pass them great referrals.