By Cailynn Klingbeil
First there was Slow Food, founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life. The organization’s mission spread beyond what we eat and today, slow travel, slow books and slow money are just a few pieces of the larger slow movement. Could slow networking be next?
Replace the frenzied handshakes, quick pitches and business card swaps of typical networking events with the pace of a snail, and you might just end up in the living room of Mark Hopkins. The Calgary theatre artist regularly hosts a networking event called We Should Know Each Other parties every few weeks. With these events he opens his living room for strangers to mingle. “But part of the reason I started it was I don’t typically like networking events and I don’t really like the word networking.”
Hopkins, who hosted his first party in February 2008, was inspired by a night out with a group of ballet dancers: it turns out that dancers ate pizza and drink beer, just like everybody else. Wanting to continue what happened that night to occur across the arts community Hopkins started inviting like-minded strangers to his home.
Instead of the elevator pitches and mass business card handouts that can characterize the other networking events Hopkins has attended, his events involve a relaxed evening. “The concept is incredibly simple. It’s that we should meet people,” Hopkins says. “I don’t set an agenda and the conversation that takes place is really up to whoever shows up, so it’s constantly changing.” One week an artist might mingle with an accountant, labourer or student, while the next party will see a baker, politician, tree planter and doctor take over Hopkins’ living room. Hopkins’ parties typically average eight to 20 people, though he had 400 people show up for We Should Know Each Other #50 (he moved the party out of his living room).
While Hopkins doesn’t structure his parties as formal networking events, they can certainly serve that purpose. He met his website designer at a We Should Know Each Other party and he says that other business connections have emerged between guests. Could this slower, less intentional style of networking catch on?
Val Carter knows that networking events can vary greatly, from breakfast events to online groups, formal meet-ups with people with the same interests to informal after-work drinks. She knows this because she’s been to all of them; she has over 20 years of experience in staff training and development and as the owner of The Success Centre, Carter runs courses for various organizations, including sessions and presentations on networking.
Regardless of the format – be it a living room hangout hosted by Hopkins or a business breakfast event, Carter says networking is all about building relationships. “It’s not about selling something or asking directly for information,” Carter says. “The other thing that people forget about networking is it’s not necessarily the person who you connect with who will be useful to you, it’s the people they know.”
Building relationships, both online and offline, is what Kait Kucy is after. She started a slower-style networking event this May, one that she calls Will You Be My Pal?
Calgary-based Kucy, a marketing and communications co-ordinator and freelance writer, found she was interacting with many local designers, artists and other creative people online, through blogs and Twitter. “I was talking to them on a daily basis and having an online friendship,” Kucy says. “I decided it’s about time we know each other in real life too.”
Kucy hosted a Will You Be My Pal? potluck for 14 women and the group shared conversation, business cards and food. “It was more of a sharing experience than strictly networking,” Kucy says, adding that inviting people into her home created a very personal touch to the event, something that’s often missing from other networking events.
The first Will You Be My Pal? party was successful and, following a summer of collaboration between the various women, another event, open to even more “yyc creative ladies”, is being hosted later this month.
Regardless of the format of the networking event, Carter says it’s important to go in with goals. “I think a lot of people jump into networking without really stopping to think, ‘what do I need?’” Carter says. “You have to know why you’re networking and what you are looking for. What do you want out of it?”
For Hopkins, it’s the perspectives of others that he’s after. “One of my favourite encounters was when a guy who worked with the violent crime unit with the Calgary Police Force came to my party. I never expected to have someone like that in my kitchen,” Hopkins says. Hopkins has also hosted Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi, and new Alberta premier, Alison Redford. “It’s one thing to see Naheed Nenshi on television or Alison Redford at a debate, but it’s a totally different thing to have them sitting on my ridiculous reclining chairs,” he says.
Such interactions, with people completely outside of his regular social circle, are exactly why Hopkins started his parties in the first place. “We Should Know Each Other is meant to introduce you to people you wouldn’t otherwise think of meeting,” he says.
Hopkins has met many such people over the last 85 parties, and event number 86 should be no different. “You’ll have one room that has all these different skill sets and interests that you wouldn’t ever think of putting together, but it’s really valuable once you do,” Hopkins says.
“I live, and I think all of us live, in little silos. If you’re always talking to the same people and always going to the same places, your perspective inevitably becomes somewhat narrowed,” Hopkins says. “I know that I’m richer for having encountered perspectives that I never would have otherwise, and I hope that other people are as well.”