Rachel Fay believes networking at events is actually not working – that attendees do not get to meet the people they want to and all too often walk away disappointed.
She has set up an at-event introducing service to take the pain out of the current do-it-yourself approach. Event organisers can hire Rachel to facilitate networking by making introductions that are relevant to their guests.
We asked her to tell us more about the service she offers and why she thinks old-fashioned introductions are the new trend.
What’s your background and what led you to become a professional introducer?
I used to be a qualitative market researcher. I worked on corporate and brand image studies. About 10 years ago, I noticed there was what I perceived to be a change in the way people network. I noticed people were not being introduced anymore, and subsequently, it was becoming much harder to meet people. That’s when I had the first ‘ah ha’ moment. The more I looked at it, the more I saw that it was becoming increasingly difficult to meet the people you wanted to meet at events designed to do just that.
How did you get your concept off the ground?
I found people who would let me work out how to do it; people running organisations that I could go into and observe what they did and introduce their guests to each other. I then wrote several reports and developed the skills to do it.
How does it work in practice?
The attendees tell me who they want to meet and I find those people for them. I do it on the spot at the event. Anyone can come up to me. If they know the name of the person they want to meet I find them, if they don’t, they may say they want to meet someone in a particular firm or someone with a particular job title.
I am working the room all the time; going up to everyone, introducing myself, finding out what they do. I work the room until I find that person. Typically, I might say, “Hello, I’m introducing people today and there’s someone who would very much like to meet you,” and then tell them the reason why they should want to meet that person.
I go back shortly afterwards to introduce them to other relevant people so that they make full use of their time at the event and actually meet people who will be useful to them in their business. The point of the conference is to make the contacts you need to make, not to have an in-depth conversation.
Rachel Fay in action at an event (credit: Carl Stanley Photography)
Do you believe the traditional style of a networking event is not fit for purpose?
With the current style of networking, it’s definitely not fit for purpose. Even if you’re brilliant at working the room, which most people aren’t, you can’t do it – it’s basic maths. For example, if there are 60 people in the room, you can’t meet them all in an hour of networking. That would be one person per minute. What you need to be able to do is find the handful of people you want to meet quickly.
I think networking has become a label, a bit like organic food. I’ve received mail outs that say there will be a networking period at lunch. When I ask what it means they say, “Well it’s just a normal lunch”. There’s no facilitating of the networking; it’s just a label because everyone’s doing it.
I think people come out of these networking events more miserable and dissatisfied than when they went in. It’s a very lonely environment for your average person to be put in a group of strangers and left to their own devices. It can be especially hellish for introverts and it just doesn’t need to be that way.
In the old days, were event hosts better at introducing people?
Yes, because communities were much more tightly knit. Now we’ve got a situation where there are a lot of different people with different levels of seniority all massed together in the same room. They often don’t know anyone at all or only a few people in the room.
In the past, the circles you’d be networking in would be smaller and therefore someone would say, “Come and meet my colleague, John,” and then John would introduce you to someone else but that doesn’t happen so much anymore.
What factors contribute to being able to make successful (and useful) connections at events?
Knowing that the people you want to meet are invited, that they’ve arrived or if they’ve left – i.e. are they actually in the room? You can waste a lot of time looking for someone who isn’t there.
What happens frequently is even the meet and greet people at the desk might not tell you whether those you want to meet have arrived or not. I find that very irritating because it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about why people are attending the event – you’re there to meet certain people. They know if the badge is gone or not and I feel very strongly that they should assist anyone who asks.
How useful is technology for facilitating networking? How important is the human aspect?
I think technology can be a very useful tool before the event. It is very handy to know in advance who is going to be at the event because that allows you to tick off who you want to meet and check out their background online. The downside of that is it’s very time-consuming. In a way, I believe that if you go to an event, it should be the organisers who do all the work – so you turn up and everything is done for you. If you have done your research beforehand and know who you want to meet, all too often you turn up and find they’re not there. That’s why I’m a fan of doing it on the spot.
Tools which use GPRS for locating people in the room are a great idea, but you’ve still got the issue of what you’re going to say to them. Are you going to just walk up to them? It’s a terrifying experience for a lot of people to approach a complete stranger especially if the focus of your attention is to get business. You’ve got to be able to show off what you do but, at the same time, you can’t be a show-off. That’s an almost impossible contradiction to carry-out. An introducer, however, can easily say, “This is Alexi, and she’s brilliant at writing punchy copy for technical websites and she’s done it for Marks & Spencer, Lord Sugar and United Biscuits.” An introducer can promote you in a way no one else can.
What qualities does someone acting as an introducer need to possess?
The courage to go up to complete strangers and introduce yourself, and then introduce someone you don’t know to someone else you don’t know. Another quality is to be efficient. You need to be friendly and approachable, of course, but a friendly person doesn’t necessarily make a good introducer. That’s because you’ve got to gather the information very quickly and then move that person on straight away to introduce them to someone. You don’t chat – it’s not a chatting situation for you.
A capacity to remember names is not necessarily as important as you might think. Names can hold people up a lot – you’re not meeting a name, you’re meeting a person. Everyone is in the same boat, it’s difficult to retain names. Don’t worry about it. More important is remembering what they do. You also need to be able to translate what someone has told you they do into layman’s terms that another person can understand.
Often it’s not evident from a job title what a person does and so you have to ask them. People often give a five-minute explanation and you need to be quite firm in order to get a clear description that can be relayed in a nutshell.
If an event organiser wants to act as an introducer themselves, how much work should they be prepared to put into it?
Don’t even go there! It’s not possible for an event organiser to act as an introducer. On the day you are so busy. From the moment you arrive until the end of the conference, you are going around the room talking to a lot of people, remembering what people look like, what they do. If someone were to come up to you and say, “The lights aren’t working or the key speaker hasn’t turned up,” you wouldn’t be able to deal with it. It’s not possible to be an introducer and have another function.
What sort of uptake do you have from attendees for your services?
They’re always thrilled because it makes their day much easier. They go away with what they came for and they haven’t had the hated task of a) finding the people, which is exhausting and b) plucking up the courage to say hello. Sometimes you’ve got to stand and wait or you’ve got to interrupt. Interrupting someone’s conversation gets you into a whole area of etiquette and courtesy, what’s acceptable and only an introducer or the host can do that because only they have the authority to interrupt.
To what degree can good networking influence overall satisfaction levels with an event? What kind of ROI is in it for the organiser?
If the event is billed as a networking event it needs to deliver, not on the possibility of chance but to make sure the attendees go away with what they came for, which is a list of new and relevant business contacts. Good networking means they will come back for more and they will become brilliant ambassadors for the organisation because they say to their colleagues, “I went to that event and met X, X and X and have come away with five meetings to have”. That reflects very well on the organisers of the event.
Providing a networking experience at your event means more than simply putting people in a room together. Helping them to make valuable business connections will increase their satisfaction levels and your event’s reputation. For more ways to enhance networking at your event, check out the ideas on the EventTribe forum.