Superfast spiels

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At the Club at Shannondell, in Audubon, Pa., eWomen members switch tables after their first business pitch. Each has just one minute.

Ellen Fisher has a well-practiced pick-up line:

"How many of you go to meetings like this, and you pick up all these cards, and you forget where you put them?"

It may not sound like much of a date-maker, but it can work wonders as a deal-maker. At least that's the promise.

At a recent business lunch in Audubon, Pa., Fisher followed her intro with a 60-second spiel - and no more! - on the Women's Yellow Pages directory of female-owned businesses, which she publishes.

Speed-networking is an increasingly popular twist for businesspeople who want contacts - and clients - fast. This suit-and-tie take on speed-dating, which began in the 1990s, has business types rotate tables and give quick intros - the snappier the better - then exchange cards before they move on to another prospect.

Building contacts and clients through networks, of course, is as old as private clubs, said Steve Smolinsky, a lecturer at the Wharton School and coauthor of Conversation on Networking, which came out last year.

Over the years, those social connections have evolved into a plethora of networking events - the bread-and-butter of chambers and associations. The business-card exchange. The networking lunch. The after-hours mixer. The breakfast club.

"Let's take these models and just speed it up," Smolinsky said of the driver behind the quick meets.

The phenomenon appears to say just as much about a hurry-up way of life as it does about how business gets done.

"It's a little bit of the culture," Fisher said. "I call it a microwave world. People expect results in a very short period of time, like a minute."

She made her fast pitch to nine other table-mates at an event last month sponsored by the King of Prussia chapter of eWomenNetwork. About three dozen businesswomen attended.

The zippy process has netted her "a sizable portion of business," she said, including advertisers for her directory.

Productivity expert Neen James said the model "is an efficient way to grow your business. Because people are time-starved, people are looking for ways to accelerate their lives."

James is also a member of the eWomenNetwork's Philadelphia chapter, which has held monthly Accelerated Networking lunches since 2005.

Matchmaking, however, whether for singles or business owners, is seldom perfect.

"It's not deep. That's for sure," Fisher said.

After a while, all those 60-second spots can start to sound alike. "I start to glaze over" at times, James said.

Still, many find the organized approach effective.

"It's lightning-fast and it's intense," said R. Michael Owens, head of the North Penn Chamber of Commerce, which held its first speed-networking over the summer. "You leave that room with 23 business cards."

The Lansdale event, which included wine-and-cheese breaks, attracted 24 people. The group was divided into two teams, who sat across from each other at long tables. A pair interacted for three minutes, then a bell rang, and those along one side shifted over a chair.

The process is particularly suited to those who hate walking up to a group and trying to join the conversation.

"If you're a little more of a wallflower, this is the perfect event," said Lisa Paglaiccetti, director of programs and events for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which will hold its next speed-networking breakfast Tuesday. "You have two minutes of someone's undivided attention."

Some companies have taken the process online, such as Fast Pitch, LinkedIn and others that offer the equivalent of an eHarmony matchmaking service.

Many, though, still want that face-to-face contact, however brief.

Chicago-based SpeedNetworking.com, for one, uses software to generate in advance a list of meet-ups based on expressed preferences.

"In speed-dating, a guy and girl don't want to meet just any guy or girl," said Adam Fendelman, cofounder of SpeedNetworking.com. "In business, it's the same kind of thing."

Participants can even screen out those pre-registered attendees, such as competitors, whom they would rather not meet.

Is a minute or two really enough time to establish a contact?

Smolinsky, the Wharton lecturer, said he considers speed-networking the "antithesis of networking," which, in his opinion, is all about relationship-building.

"Relationships generally happen over time," he said. "It often takes me a half-hour or 45 minutes to get to know somebody. When speed-networking gives you three minutes, all you can do is spout out a very direct, hard sale."

Jalma Marcus, principal at 4C Alignment, which consults with workplaces on adapting to change, said she wondered about the track record of contacts made hurriedly. "The difficulty I have is that no one knows the quality of your work," she said at the Philadelphia chapter's eWomen lunch in September at the Union League. "That's a problem. A lot of people, I wouldn't refer to anybody."

Megan Kristel, owner of Kristel Closets, said eWomenNetwork's Accelerated Networking has led to a tenfold increase in her image-consulting and personal-shopping business.

At the Audubon program, Paula Gill, a referring travel agent for YTB Travel Network, laid out the details of her Web site DomenicaTravel.com as Chandi Smith, a consultant at Financial Milestones, a financial services company in Radnor, studied her wristwatch.

Gill finished with several seconds to spare and a handful of business cards.

"You don't realize how much time a minute is," she said later, "and how much you can say in that minute."


Contact staff writer Lini S. Kadaba at 610-627-0352 or Lkadaba@phillynews.com.