The need to make connections
Meeting people and making connections is a basic human need. And linguists are no exception, even if they are well-experienced in the art of remote working. Most translators and interpreters miss the opportunity to make new connections with other people in their industry.
That’s why the ITI Italian Network held its first speed networking event yesterday. And this article is to give you some tips and tricks to run a successful event like this one.
So what is speed networking? In simple terms, a larger group of people meets online and is split into small groups of three or four for a time-limited informal chat. And these days, this is done remotely using software that has this built-in feature, such as Zoom. The number of people in the small group is key as allows individuals to feel confident in starting a conversation – too many people alter this atmosphere.
Why do translators and interpreters need this kind of event?
Like anyone during the pandemic, isolation is a difficulty and the lack of ability to meet new people is problematic. There are always new people joining the industry and they need to make connections and feel part of a larger group. Other interactions have their place, such as online training courses, but they are often mono-directional and rightly focussed on the content of the course. Whereas the ability to make connections as we would at conferences or at coffee break during a training course, no longer exists. This is where speed networking fills the gap.
Having a fixed amount of time to (re)introduce yourself to new people – or even those you have known for years – is of huge value on a personal and professional level. And it was really driven home to me yesterday at the end of our networking session, when one person commented that they had not met anyone new since the beginning of the pandemic. All their online interactions had tended to be in groups of people they already knew, so this was such a great opportunity to get a begin to broaden their network again.
So, here are my notes on how we delivered this event in case any other groups and networks want to do something similar. Feel free to leave a comment with your questions or get in touch – I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Any successful event requires good planning. So play around with the software and watch the tutorials to familiarise yourself with how the event will work on a practical level. We set up an hour in the early evening, when most people have completed deadlines. This hour was then divided into
- 5 minutes to welcome everyone and explain how the hour will work
- 3 sets of 15-minute sessions for small-group chat
- remember to allow 2 or 3 minutes after each group chat to resolve any issues and reallocate people into different groups
- a few minutes at the end to gather comments and feedback
Make sure your members know well in advance when the speed networking is going to happen, along with some basic details so they know what they are getting into before they arrive. Set up some reminders to send out on the day of the event and a few days before to make sure your members know it is still happening!
We chose to run this event without the requirement to sign up, with the view that people are more likely to just turn up if they can rather than booking and dropping out. It also makes the event feel informal from the off, which we then try our best to continue in the event itself – more on this in the next section, Environment.
Another key to success is to create the right environment. Getting the right balance of professional but relaxed atmosphere is critical to members feeling at ease and ready to chat. Most of this is set by the tone of the invitations and reminders to join as well as how the facilitator or coordinator begins and manages the event. Be friendly and welcoming but make sure that the facilitator’s role is clear in that if there is a problem they are a trusted member of the community or network who can be relied upon when needed.
Although the facilitator will be part of the network, it will be very tricky for them to engage in all of the group chats in these events. This is purely because they have a job to do behind the scenes. If there are technical issues, the participants may wish to contact the facilitator via the chat feature, so monitoring that is important.
While you can divide people up automatically for the first chat group, the facilitator is going to have to manually move people from room to room for the best ‘mixing’ of people for subsequent groups. On our initial event we had eleven members including the facilitator so having a notepad to take note of who was in which room at each group chat was indispensable! With larger groups this would be less critical. The facilitator also has to set up the timer and reminders for the group rooms once they are generated by the software. For the last group chat, I was able to join in with a conversation in a group as there was no upcoming group to plan for.
We also adopted some guidelines such as
- members displaying both their first and second names on their identifier
- suggesting some icebreaker questions like, what are your specialisms? where do you live?
- giving everyone a chance to speak
- choosing one or more common language, for us English or Italian works for our members
- keeping the content light and professional
At the end of the last group chat everyone joins the main online meeting. At this point, it’s a good idea to ask for suggestions or comments as they will be fresh in everyone’s mind.
It’s also a good time to gauge if there’s an appetite to for a follow-up speed networking event as well as a time-scale.
Odds ‘n’ ends
Finally, I’d like to end on a few items that are all handy tips for facilitators to remember:
- ensure you have set up your account to enable breakout rooms, as detailed in thee instructions
- always make sure you have the latest version of the software about an hour before you start your event. There’s nothing worse than having a few minutes to go and you have to download and install an update!
- always log in 10 minutes before the scheduled start, if you are coordinating the event
- keep your knowledge of the software current