Better than Speed Dating: A Networking Event for Strange Times
This past May, the French American Chamber of Commerce of New York, in collaboration with several other European-American organizations, hosted an online networking event called “The Ripple”, dubbed the biggest online networking event for the transatlantic business community. Having been a member of the FACC-NY for a grand total of 48 hours at that point, I was both excited and nervous to participate – and wondered how on earth they were going to pull this off.
I received an invitation from the web-based networking service within which the event was to be held. The platform was called Conversation Starter, a Belgium-based company described as “If Linkedin, Zoom and Calendly had a baby”. I was invited to complete my profile and write a few words about myself, at which point I could then browse other attendees’ profiles and see which ones piqued my interest (just like online dating, but without all the lying about your height and weight). If someone’s bio seemed like a good fit, you could send them an invite and schedule a time to speak with them during the event.
The Ripple was to last 2.5 hours, and meetings were split into 12-minute increments, so you could have someone scheduled at 12:20, then 12:32, then 12:44 and so on. I was lucky enough to book 9 appointments, but a few people I sent invites to were already booked solid, so the system sent me an email at that point with their information so I could contact them later (if they had agreed to share their information with me).
The big day had arrived! Upon entering the Conversation Starter event page (the link to which we had received by email), we needed to click on the first meeting in order to get things started, at which point the video popped up on the screen, without the need to download software. I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine all first meetings included a combination of the following:
“This is so bizarre/cool/interesting”
“Sorry, my dog/baby/cat/exotic gecko is crying in the background”
My favourite part was being cut off at the 12-minute mark, when suddenly that person would disappear and another one would take their place. As one of my colleagues put it, nearly all conversations hovering around the 11:55 mark would conclude with “so what would really be helpful is…” and then abruptly end 5 seconds later, leaving the remainder of the phrase to the mysteries of time and space. In case you were wondering, yes, there was a timer which we could all see, but I don’t even pay attention to timers when I cook, so I wasn’t about to start now. After the 2.5 hours, the video disappeared, and all of us went back to eating in front of the computer and having horrible posture.
Not being the shyest grape in the bunch, the lack of physical social interaction over the past few months has been, to put it lightly, “a real bummer”, and people chiming “but it’s ok because we have videoconferencing now!” make me want to scream into my building’s garbage chute. I have to admit though, that at least when networking is concerned, events like The Ripple and apps like Conversation Starter are really helpful, and even provide some advantages to in-person networking, including being able to connect and schedule with people before the event, ensuring that you will actually get to chat with them, and easily having their information on hand so you can contact them later if you (and they) so desire.
Even the abrupt 12-minute cut off can be advantageous; we’ve all been to events where someone is talking your ear off and you want to escape to meet other people (or grab more cheese), but you don’t want to be rude and you’re too tired to muster the energy to say you have to leave.
Another great advantage for me was that, though I belong to the NY branch of the FACC, I live in Montreal, Canada (insert “eh” joke here), so my travel savings were on fleek, as the kids say.
Last but not least, the attendees I got to speak with were all witty, kind and well-dressed, so who could ask for more?