Michael Slater - President & Founder of SpeedNetworking.com

Michael's passion for networking and connecting professionals prompted him to start SpeedNetworking.com in 2001 as a way to help improve networking for organizations he was a part of; and he never looked back. He has traveled around the world to produce SpeedNetworking events for a variety of organizations, including Fortune 100 Companies, international trade associations, colleges & universities, and many more. As a board member of numerous professional organizations, Michael fully understands the value of networking for long-lasting relationships and often travels to speak on the importance of networking.

We spoke with Michael to ask a few questions about professional networking and SpeedNetworking.com. 

Q: Is networking still as important today as it was before social media?

A: More than ever! Networking online through social media outlets like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., certainly have their advantages but to truly engage and develop the trust necessary in business relationships, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Things like body language, mannerisms, eye contact, and other indicators play a huge role in create a relationship. Whether right or wrong, it only takes 7 seconds for us to develop a first impression and the best way to make a positive first impression is in-person. It takes time and effort to establish relationships and meeting people in person is a key component of fostering this growth. Whether you're looking to make new business partnerships, connect with peers, find a mentor, become a mentor, etc., networking plays a key component in developing these relationships. The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services did a study on networking and found that "79% said that in-person meeting are the most effective way to meet new clients for business and 95% said that face-to-face meetings are a key factor in building & maintaing long-term business relationships."

Q: What are some major challenges you face when putting an event together?

A: Over the past ten years, we have developed a systematic approach when it comes to putting a networking event together but we still face a few challenges when planning and producing an event.

Logistics is always a focus, as we need to determine an appropriate venue that allows for easy registration, enough space to facilitate the event and give us some flexibility. There are a number of factors we take into consideration, which can fluctuate based on the number of participants, size of tables/chairs, whether or not food/drink is provided, sponsors, and other variables. For our own events (non-client events), we typically make a list of a few viable venues, create a list of pros/cons for each venue and make a decision based on the functionality and visual appeal for the event. 

Another big focus is creating a marketing message that clearly defines the objective of the event. This is critical to ensuring we target the right audience and create an environment where like-minded professionals can connect. We need to set the right expectations on the front-end to maximize the experience for everyone who attends. If we can enable everyone to achieve their networking goals at the event, we know we have succeeded. 

No-shows is something that ALL event planners focus on for their events. Fortunately, we have made HUGE improvements for limiting the number of no-shows at our events by incorporating a variety of tools and now see a 6% no-show rate on average. We incorporate cancellation language in our marketing message, auto-reminders via email and text messaging alerts to keep participants informed about the event.

Q: What is the biggest difference between SpeedNetworking.com now vs. when you started?

After 15 years of working with clients in every industry and producing every type of networking event imaginable, we have learned so much about business relationships and event management. More importantly, we have continuously improved our matching technology/algorithm to maximize the quality of connections for attendees. We started with a simple product and as we have grown, our software has continued to get smarter and enables us to do a lot of really cool, meaningful things with data.  

Additionally, our role has transformed from "software provided" to "event consultants", as we work with our clients to manage all aspects of planning and producing the speed networking event. This includes marketing consultation, matching guidance, operations, logistics, facilitation, customer service, and training. We really want to reduce the time that our clients have to spend on the event and provide them with peace of mind, knowing the event is in good hands.

Q: What advice do you have for event planners who want to incorporate new networking events (or SpeedNetworking.com) into their conferences/events?

That's a great question and one that depends on the type of event they are producing. It is really important to determine what the objective of your event is going to be (peer-to-peer, buyer/seller, mentoring, general networking, etc.) and then determine the best way to facilitate meaningful new connections based on this objectives. There are a number of effective ways to connect people and the best route depends on your event, the audience, the objective, space, budget and other factors. We have really great conversations with a lot of clients (and potential clients) to consult on best practices and share ideas on what similar organizations have done to facilitate a great event. My best advice? Give us a call!

Contact SpeedNetworking.com at events@speednetworking.com or (312) 377-3754.