On one cold evening in January 2008, passersby might wonder what’s going on inside 965 Granville Street in downtown Vancouver. Like a giant fishbowl, the windows lining the interior display a flurry of movement, only the objects moving inside are adorned all in black. Inside the swanky Caprice Lounge, the darkened wood and suede upholstery of the walls are barely visible behind the packed jumble of businessmen and women, roaring with conversations. The tattooed bartender works quickly to serve them all as the crowds line his polished, back-lit bar. A hockey game plays somewhere in the background but no one is watching. This isn’t just any crowd; indeed, everyone has come out this evening with a purpose in mind. Their agenda: Speed Networking.
The group behind this event is the Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT), a Vancouver Board of Trade project that accepts 100 students from all disciplines each year, connecting them with mentors from the business community. Student participants in LOT “develop networking, management and leadership skills through mentorship,” 1 helping them to segue effectively into the professional world. And it is events such as Speed Networking that help to develop these powerful skills. On this night, members of LOT, CYP (Company of Young Professionals), the Vancouver Board of Trade, as well as individual professionals take part in an intense bout of socialization, much like speed dating for the business world.
Scanning the room, everyone seems to have several key features in common: they are all dressed in professional attire, they are all exceptionally outgoing and everyone carries a business card. The crowd consists mostly of twenty or thirty-somethings, making it difficult to pick out who is a mentor, who is a mentee, or indeed, who has come as a representative of the professional community. Before the event starts, the attendees mill about, shaking hands as they pause to introduce themselves to fellow speed networkers. It’s a lively affair, with over one hundred people actively contributing to the energetic atmosphere. Moreover, a little investigation reveals a fair number of SFU students interspersed throughout the crowd.
SFU’s presence is strong at the event, with many of the mentees from the LOT coming largely from the Business and Communication program. Kathleen Kilroe, an SFU Business undergrad, scans the crowd with mentor Robert Mizon, Director of Operational Standards at Telus. Carla Culos, former Communication and Business joint-major entertain a group of listeners with stories of her experience in the EDGE program. Meanwhile, Master of Publishing student Lise Boullard gushes about her good fortune at being connected with her own mentor. “Somehow I got lucky enough to be set up with Claire,” says Boullard, speaking of her mentor Claire Lamont of Smak, “It’s great gaining insight from someone who works for an alternative marketing company, especially since many of the mentors are coming from a business background – it’s great to be placed with someone from the Communication sector.”
Given the agenda of the evening, participants also have a lot say on the topic of networking. ALS Chemex employee Jeremy Ingoldby attests: “To me, networking represents the opportunity to meet all sorts of different people, to open up doors for the future – it’s the chance to expose yourself to different industries that you might not know about.” And those in attendance cannot help but gain this exposure. Professions ranged from the Information Technology sector to Public Relations. Claire Lamont of Smak, a company dealing in the latter, has the following to say about the evening: “The student needs to go prepared with a goal for the evening. What are they hoping to achieve from this particular event? Who are they hoping to meet and what information will they need from that person if they should meet them. Networking is all about agendas so go prepared and you’ll get what you need.”
And, taking this philosophy to heart, students and professionals alike talk the night away as the event unfolds. Personal histories are shared and business cards exchanged as the crowd splits into groups of ten or so, each group engaging in animated discussion and debate. Group members quickly become acquainted, settling into their respective corners atop squishy leather booths and ornate wooden chairs. Just as everyone has had the chance to interact and learn something about their group mates, time is up and new groups are formed. All shake hands and repeat. So unravels a most unconventional evening of mingling, hailed by organizers and attendees alike as a huge success.
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