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Three, Two, One—Network!

Can a networking relationship be forged in six short minutes? Columbia Executive MBAs put the theory to the test

Shruti Joshi stands perfectly poised in her three-inch pumps and stylish knee-length dress, a wineglass held casually in one hand and a list of names in the other. Looking at Joshi and the 200 or so executive MBA students working the room in Columbia University's Casa Italiana one late afternoon in July, one could take this for any old cocktail party—except for the fact that everyone is on a tight schedule over the next hour. Attendees will meet eight people for six minutes each, with one 15-minute break.

If this sounds a whole lot like speed dating, well, it is—except this event is more likely to match entrepreneur with venture capitalist than cat lady and dog lover. The event was designed to bring together students from the EMBA-Global program, a partnership between Columbia Business School and London Business School, and the Berkeley-Columbia EMBA program, a partnership between Columbia and Berkeley's Haas School of Business. The goal is to enable the EMBA students to form valuable business connections.

Take a Relaxed Approach

Before the sessions begin, Joshi, a 2009 Columbia EMBA-Global student, says she's looking forward to meeting students in the different programs and to expanding her network. "Considering what we're told about two minutes being enough time to make an impression, six minutes seems like plenty of time," she says enthusiastically. "At least you leave with eight new contacts that you can follow up with." This shouldn't be too hard for Joshi, who schmoozes easily with everyone she meets, drawing connections and speaking of her own ambitions to manage global brands overseas.

The speed-networking event was first attempted two years ago by the Columbia EMBA program after Tom Jaffee, a Columbia MBA alumnus and founder of the speed-dating network, decided to take the concept of speed dating into the corporate world. Today's participants were asked to go online to fill out a form including their own details as well as what kind of people they would like to meet before they were matched by computer. EMBA students, whose primary reason for attending Columbia's program often is to expand their networks, were eager to participate.

Speed networking may sound a little counterintuitive; one would think that building real business contacts takes time and effort; but no one here is really expecting miracles from their six-minute meetings. "Is it helpful—yes; is it incredibly helpful—no," Scott Estill, another 2009 EMBA-Global student, explains before the event. "You get business cards and it's on you to follow up with that conversation."

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Before the bell rings to send them off to their first match, Michael Morris, who teaches leadership at Columbia, explains the basics of effective networking. "If there's one recommendation I can make to you: don't talk to someone like yourself," he says. Morris advocates the speed networking idea because of research he conducted during a more free-form social-networking event years ago. He gave students tracking tags to wear that showed people tended to spend time with those they already knew, even though almost all had set an initial goal of meeting new people. "Familiarity is king," he says. "Unless you have a structure that forces people out of their comfort zone, people don

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