Seeking Ideas for Conference Speed Dating

Last week, I came across conference speed dating. I immediately fell in love with the idea and wanted to try it at Web2Open. But I’m not sure how to set it up. Seeing as the Open is a community-based event, I’m hoping some of you will have stellar suggestions for making this work.

The basic idea with conference speed dating is that you have two kinds of people who’d want to meet–say VCs and entrepreneurs, or agents and writers, or farmers and chefs. You designate seats for people from the first group, and you let people from the second group meet with them for five minutes each. Then you ring a bell, and while the first group stays put, everyone from the second group moves on to another VC or agent or farmer. The whole thing lasts about 45 minutes, and everybody makes contacts that might pan out into something cool. Awesome, right?

The tricky part for the Open (and the Expo) is that we won’t have natural categories like that. So we talked about asking prominent community members to volunteer for the first group (Tim O’Reilly, consider yourself invited), but then we weren’t sure how to organize the second group. Assume we can accommodate 20 pairs at a time, and that we’ll have 10 five-minute times slots. What happens if more than 10 people want to talk to Tim? And what if somebody from the second group wants to talk to only some of the people in the first group? Or if we have way more than 20 people for the second group and they all want to talk to everyone from the first?

Is there a simple and fair way to set this up in person at the Open? Or on a Website that people can access during the conference? We have a wiki for the Open, but we don’t have a ton of programming time. (Btw, we’re cross-posting these questions to the Expo/Open CrowdVine.)

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  • http://freepository.com John Minnihan

    1. What happens if more than 10 people want to talk to Tim?

    - Plan for one extra slot. Throw names in a hat, draw one & they get the extra slot. Everyone else gets to send stuff to a private email address for this group only. Timeshift the response.

    2. And what if somebody from the second group wants to talk to only some of the people in the first group?

    - Regsiter & match-up ahead of time. Number tables & give folks a map of their “route” that avoids the tables that wish to limit their discussions to only some from the other group.

    3. Or if we have way more than 20 people for the second group and they all want to talk to everyone from the first?

    - Multple events over two days, or see #1

  • http://www.usarealtorsdirectory.com Realtor

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    I’ve run Speed dating events in the past using Meetup.com as a way to get reservations and announcing the future events. I would have 40-50 people sign-up for the Speed dating event and usually 50% show up the event was FREE. Other companies offered similar services but charged $8-$10 per person and would have the event at a Hotel Bar that also served snacks, with drinks a la cart. I ran the event for about a year in San Diego and found lot’s interesting people then I got burned out with the schedule and let someone else take over the event

  • http://mike.saunby.net Michael Saunby

    Though I’ve never been speed dating – Kath and I married before it was even invented – I’m guessing it generally works on the basis that men wish to meet women and vice versa. The two sexes are pretty much evenly divided even in large cities.

    So if it were my job to set up something like this for a conference I’d be looking for a 50/50 split that brought together something worthwhile. Youth/experience, introvert/extrovert, reader/writer, designer/consumer. OK not all 50/50 in most populations, but asking folks to rate themself on a scale of 1 to 10 on each of these, and others, will give enough data to mix and match. Perhaps – I’ve not tried this, it could be rubbish.

    BTW. Aren’t captcha’s tedious. Why not something more interesting? e.g. several pictures with the instruction “pick the nerd”, or “pick the babe”….. I’m rambling. I’m done.

  • http://blog.museway.com marco

    I agree with John.
    you could prepare a closed number subscription list for every second group members (the waiters).
    the first group participants (the comers) can subscribe to the half part of the waiters group lists, choosing between those list not fully subscribed yet. As assumption, all the waiters have to be interesting enough….
    Doubling the time slots duration you could also obtain a comers group composed, for example, by 20 people while the waiters group are composed by 10 people. In this example every comer will “date” five waiters.
    well, obviously it introduce compromises, but it introduce also some kind of order….

  • http://dasht-exp-1a.com Thomas Lord

    In the old days we used Martinis and some parlor games. “B” for “Botticelli” anyone?

    -t

    (W.S.) Burroughs once observed, from his crazed perspective, a south american culture in which the mode of entering business was to talk about everything but the topic at hand until everyone around the table was comfortable to move on. As with many things he wrote we can look back on that, with hindsight, and say: “duh.”

  • http://epeus.blogspot.com Kevin Marks

    The way I’ve seen speed geeking successfully run before is self-organising. You put up a sign-up sheet for people who want to give a demo, and allocate 5 mins per slot (if you assign an hour, there are 12 slots). Each demo gets a location, everyone else present is divided into groups by calling out numbers in turn, and the groups move past every 5 minutes. It’s like Ignite, only parallel, and each demoer has to talk n times to each group.

  • http://anarchogeek.com/ rabble
  • http://laughingmeme.org kellan

    And watch Gunner the creator of speed geeking shows you how its done: http://www.civicactions.com/?q=node/308

  • http://manypossibilities.net Steve Song

    Right on. Gunner’s your man.

  • http://manypossibilities.net Steve Song

    Right on. Gunner’s your man. He is a participatory tech event facilitator par excellence.

  • Tim Bishop

    Fourth endorsement of Gunner. He rocks. Speed geeking rocks.