Silent Networking

Last weekend a group of us gathered at Circus Oz in Melbourne at an unconference called Trampoline.

An unconference is an event that starts with an empty grid and attendees pitch their session ideas until the grid fills up.

I had already confessed in advance to @Pat (one of the 3 organisers, the others being @melinachan and @aida_lee) that I had a session in mind so when that moment of awkwardness of pitching early hit, I knew I’d be in trouble if i didn’t step up.

I was freaking out as the session was based on a roughly outlined idea I had during a conversation with Jana. We were both tired and a bit worn down late on a Friday night and we went for a drive, discovering that the best conversation we could have was just taking in each other’s company in silence. That level of being comfortable with someone enough to know that neither of you have to say anything is a pretty special point to reach in a friendship, but getting to that point usually takes time.

I wanted to see if there was a way to break down the “getting to know you” process much more quickly, and perhaps cut past some of the usual traps we fall into when we are meeting new people.

The idea of Silent Networking was to remove speech from the experience.

I had no clue what would happen and was somewhat shitting myself as to what would happen. I thought I probably should have planned it a bit further than “get everyone in a room and ask them to get to know each other without talking”.

So I opened by saying “I’ll be honest and say this is a social experiment that I have never tried before. As usual, the law of two feet applies. Let’s get yourselves into groups and we’ll see where this goes!”

I started by leaving the room to go and get some music. I won’t lie: I really didn’t want to be held responsible if these people wasted the next 20 minutes looking at each other thinking “what has this crazy woman done to the start of our day”. Bailing for a few minutes shifted the onus for me to lead and instead placed the responsibility back into the room to do something with their situation. Ultimately I think this was a smart move.

I bounce back in with a laptop and discourteously start blaring Triple J Hottest 100 Volume 6. By blaring, I mean it was on the lowest possible volume but it sounded like I was Quasimodo ringing the bells it was that intrusive.

The trends in the room were interesting to observe. No-one really moved around the room and each group sort of tried experimenting with different techniques.

One group used an iPad and started drawing their professions (which is weird because my instinct would be to type). Another group used a notepad and wrote. One guy had some juggling balls, and they slowly started doing the rounds… interestingly being thrown across the room for people to meet without moving. I thought people who knew them were throwing them to each other at first, but found out after it was a way to break the ice between strangers.

Peter Spence said his group sat there for a few seconds and tried to use their eyes to communicate. He said it felt really weird so they scrapped that idea. Then they all held hands and that didn’t work either. it was just too close and wasn’t valuable.

My favourite part was when Elise decided to give me a massage and we ended up making a massage chain. Sounds weird, but bizarrely it was appropriate for “starting conversation” in the room.

All in all the experiment was a “success” in that no-one yelled at me or really left the room (despite them all having two feet).

Personally, I found it REALLY challenging as an extrovert to participate in this session, but was ridiculously pleased with how it turned out.

If you were there, feel free to offer feedback in the comments and I’ll take it on board as I’d love to do this again in the future (Peter Spence has suggested it might be an interesting addition to CPX).

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