I often run a speed conversation session at the start of a Knowledge Café and workshops or conferences. It is a great ice-breaker and exceptionally easy to run.
Sometimes these sessions are called speed networking, but I prefer to call them speed conversations as they are far more about conversation than they are networking.
You will need a device for attracting people’s attention. I use a whistle.
You do not necessarily need a whistle – but try shouting over the cacophony of 30 or more people chatting away and you may go out and buy one for the next event. Though another sound making device of your choice will do.
The whistle I use is an acme thunderer – the world’s first reliable pea whistle – that was invented in 1884 by Joseph Hudson in Birmingham, England and which over 160 million have been sold worldwide! I carry it with me at all times on my key-ring.
This is how the process works:
- Briefly, explain the process
- Blow your whistle the once
- Everyone finds a partner – someone whom they do not know
- They have two minutes to have a conversation with them
- Blow your whistle again and ask people to swap partners
- Allow two minutes again for further conversation
- Repeat this procedure 3 or 4 times
- Finally, blow your whistle twice to indicate the end of the session
Some facilitators explicitly tell people what to talk about. I tend not to do this as I think people are more than capable of deciding that. I don’t need to be so controlling.
In just ten minutes, you can cycle this four times.This simple process works exceptionally well and can be expanded or contracted depending on the time available.
I tell people its a bit like “speed dating” but you don’t get to date and then add but there is no rule against it! This always gets a laugh 🙂
We must establish a personal connection with each other.
Connection before content.
Without relatedness, no work can occur.
Credit: Peter Block
Speed Conversations lifts the energy in the room, and the biggest problem is getting people to stop and sit down again.
Recent research (Friends With Cognitive Benefits -What Types of Social Interactions Boost Executive Functioning? by Oscar Ybarra, Piotr Winkielman, Irene Yeh, Eugene Burnstein, Liam Kavanagh) shows that talking with other people in a friendly way makes it easier to solve common problems. Conversations that are competitive in tone, however, rather than cooperative, have no cognitive benefits and suppress the ability to solve problems.
This is the reason for the short round of speed conversations at the start of the Café. It relaxes, people, gets them talking about uncontroversial things and boosts their thinking ability.
The buzz of a speed conversation at a Knowledge Café at Regents University, London in 2015
This page is part of an online book on Conversational Leadership that I am in the process of writing.
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