MISHAWAKA -- It's like speed-dating, except for professionals.
Instead of romance, they deal in prospects.
Instead of pickup lines, they trade sales pitches.
And they hand out professionally printed business cards rather than cocktail napkins inscribed with phone numbers.
This is "Power Networking," where business people converge in the early morning for three
hours of handshakes, table hopping and first impressions. Participants sit at tables of six, and each get two minutes to explain who they are and what they do to the others during the high-octane event.
Every 15 minutes or so, they switch tables.
For the most part, everyone in the room gets a chance to hear from everyone else.
"It helps me get the word out and plant seeds," said Malana Maher, residence sales manager for Inwood Hills Estates, a senior living community on South Ironwood Drive in South Bend.
There was also Shellie Bryant, who organizes special events for Knollwood Country Club in Granger."I'm the party girl," she said.
Well, the official title is private event director. Either way, Bryant is an experienced power
networker who showed up to the Oct. 13 event at Bethel College in Mishawaka loaded down with brochures and information to hand out to people.
"You get a lot of connections," she said. "There's a huge variety of different types of businesses here."
There were hardware store managers, life coaches, resort managers, security consultants and a lady selling nutritional supplement pills.
The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County sponsors the event two or three times each year, said Paul Laskowski, vice president of the Chamber.The event seems to work, too. At Bryant's table, where there was a little spare time after everyone gave their two-minute spiel, the hardware store manager talked to the security consultant about possibly installing video surveillance.
And when someone mentioned his organization sponsors a charity golf outing, Bryant jumped in.
"At Knollwood?" she asked, with a smile on her face.
Just one piece
Face-to-face communication is crucial for businesses, said James O'Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame.O'Rourke is director of the university's Fanning Center for Business Communication.
In an era when we can communicate around the world at unheard of speeds using text, voice or images, nothing beats two people standing right in front of each other, he said.
"BlackBerries, Palm Trios -- I've got all those gadgets myself -- all very useful, but only if you really know people," he said. "Once you've built some entry-level trust, you can do more by
e-mail or by the phone. You really have to have that moment together."
Power networking is one way to accomplish that, but O'Rourke has his doubts.
"As clever and interesting as it is, I don't see a lot of value in it," he said. "If you're trying to
advance your business, if you're trying to advance your career, two minutes might not be enough."The real issue, he said, is who's in the room. Networking is about meeting people you never would have met otherwise -- using one connection to get you to another, to get you to another, and so on.
"(Two minutes) is enough to exchange a business card, to establish a contact, to shake hands, to say hello," he said.
And while the Chamber's event provides that, it's important that the participants follow through.
"I think it's the equivalent of a chance meeting in the airport," he said. "You really have got to follow up on it by saying, 'Would you have a moment to meet? Would you have a few moments for me to offer a new idea?'"