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Speed Networking: When networking isn’t fast enough

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Throughout history, embedded reporters have bravely immersed themselves within military units at times of war to share unique perspectives with the public.

I decided to do something a little less dangerous and cover a Speed Networking event in Monroe as a participant, so The Sun’s readers can get a first-hand account of my experience.

The Monroe and Greater Valley chambers of commerce teamed up with Power Network to host the 11th Annual Speed Networking event at Whitney Farms on Wednesday evening.

Armed with a thick stack of business cards and a killer elevator speech, I was going in.

Hi, I’m Bill Bittar and I’m a longtime journalist, who started The Monroe Sun nearly five years ago …

Perfect opening! It had my name, a little background and my business all in one sentence. I recited my 60-second pitch over and over while driving to the event.

A cold rain fell as I parked my pickup truck at the Whitney Farms Golf Club & Event Venue and walked to the entrance.

A sign for Speed Networking led to the Golf View Room. My next challenge was to eat finger foods and mingle, while not blowing my cover as a successful businessman.

Bellenot & Boufford …

The large open room had a small table with a bell and a cow bell and seven larger numbered tables covered with white tableclothes.

A buffet of appetizers with a coffee station was set up on the wall outside the bar, where some guests lined up to use their drink cards. A table with small bottles of water was available to moisten dry throats as speakers calmed their nerves.

Throughout the room, participants mingled and got in some early networking, practicing their elevator speeches on each other.

Once everyone was seated, Beth Stoller, who organized the event, picked up the microphone.

“Thank you to our participants and our sponsors, who help us keep our costs down,” she said, before introducing attorneys Kathy Boufford and Ronald Bellenot of the firm Bellenot & Boufford, the event’s Power Sponsor.

The attorneys performed a skit to show how their practice helps clients to navigate many of life’s problems.

Bellenot and Boufford faced each other and took turns pretending to answer a phone:

Bellenot & Boufford …

Hi, the bank is foreclosing on my home and I don’t know what to do.

Come in, I can help you. Don’t worry, you won’t lose your home.

Bellenot & Boufford …

Hello, my son got his girlfriend pregnant. She had the baby and now has a new boyfriend and won’t let him see his child.

We can help you with that. Come in and I’ll help your son get visitation rights.

After going through a variety of scenarios, both attorneys faced the audience and introduced their firm in unison to a round of applause. Their skit was a hit

Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni, left, and Beth Stoller, right, make opening comments before the speed networking sessions start.

Other businesses sponsoring tables were Double Eagle Insurance Agency, Newtown Savings Bank and Peralta Design.

“We are pleased to do this collaboratively with our friends from the Valley,” said Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni.

Giovanni thanked Whitney Farms for hosting the event, as well as the servers.

The view from the large windows overlooking the golf course showed the rain had turned into snow. “It’s snowing, so happy spring everybody,” Giovanni said with a smile.

More cow bell

Each participant was given an envelop with their name on it to help them navigate the speed networking. A top row listed the rounds, 1-7, as well as the Final round. Each number had a corresponding table number below it.

The numbers were ordered in such a way that each participant would meet all 49 of the other participants by the end of the night.

At the beginning of every round, those seated around each table passed out their business cards for others to refer to during the elevator speeches, then to place inside their envelope.

A bell was rung at the beginning of each round and a cow bell was rung in 60-second intervals throughout, letting everyone know it was time for the next speaker. The table host went first.

I started at Table 6 with Michael Bitetto (sales executive of AssuredPartners), Nora DeBellis, (senior relationship manager/vice president of KeyBank), Maggie Kruse (a marketing assistant with Peralta Design), Lisa Bisson (director of community outreach for Wesley Village) and Analicia Jones (event coordinator/lead stylist for Visage Beauty and Creative Studio).

Analicia said it was her first time speed networking and she was a little nervous. But everyone at our table encouraged each other, which also made me feel more at ease.

Lisa said she likes speed networking, because at other networking events, if you don’t know anyone to walk up to, you could end up interacting with very few people. But speed networking breaks the ice, getting all participants to interact with each other.

The cow bell was rung and the networking was underway.

“We launch brands. We’re a full-service marketing company,” Maggie told us, while delivering her pitch about Peralta Design.

Analicia did well when it was her turn. “I design extravagant events,” she said. “I enjoy bringing ease to people’s lives.”

Nora told us that KeyBank is called a super regional bank and how it has a widespread presence.

“I offer opportunities for seniors, so they don’t have to move into their children’s basement,” Lisa said of what she does at Wesley Village, a nonprofit. “We provide assisted living.”

Michael told us he offers “white glove service” as a sales executive for AssuredPartners, providing administrative functions while brokering insurance for individuals, families and businesses.

When it was my turn, I calmly gave my elevator speech about The Sun, finishing just before the final cow bell sounded.

Raffles, cookies and coffee

Victoria Martin, left, a funeral director for Spadaccino and Leo P. Gallagher and Son Community Funeral Home, and Maryann Croce of Small Biz Vantage, right, listen to David Fraga talk about his role as operations lead for CMW Roofing & Siding.

Between rounds, participants could get up for a few minutes and were welcome to get a cup of coffee and some cookies that were available.

My next table was Number 1. With one round under our belts, this round went more smoothly for everyone.

After Round 2 was over, Beth Stoller called David Fraga, operations lead for CMW Roofing & Siding, to the front of the room for a raffle drawing.

Fraga reached into a glass jar of business cards and pulled out Marc Champagne’s name. Marc, who was also at my table, won a gift certificate to Texas Roadhouse.

Marc is the owner and inspector of Champagne Inspection Services, which serves residential and commercial clients.

Raffle drawings for prizes donated by businesses were done between every round.

Imagine meeting ‘John Lenon’

I had the opportunity to meet interesting people from diverse business backgrounds, from funeral directors, designers and Realtors to rehabilitation specialists, printers, cybersecurity experts, and a couple who buys homes with cash, renovates and sells the properties.

Ramon Peralta, founder and creative director of Peralta Design, is also a public speaker who helps businesses launching their brands.

He shared a quote from Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos: “Your brand is what others say about you when you leave the room.”

Peralta wrote a book, “Launch Your Brand: The Fastest Way to Supercharge Any Business”, which was a raffle prize for three lucky winners.

One participant I met had a name tag that immediately caught my eye: “John Lenon”, just one “n” away from the famous musician’s spelling.

I later found out his full name is John Lenon Guido, project manager for New Hope Construction Services, a Wethersfield firm that does most of its projects in Hartford, New York and Stamford.

At another table, I met JoAnne Almonte, branch manager of the M&T Bank location at Village Square on Monroe Turnpike.

Beth Stoller speaks at the beginning of the event.

“I love it,” she said of speed networking. “It’s such a great way to meet so many different people in the community and make connections. I think it’s the best way to network, because you see so many people in a short period of time.”

After the speed networking rounds were over, Beth Stoller gave everyone a cell number to text feedback and positive comments rolled in.

While it’s great to meet 49 people at one event, 60 second speeches can leave you wanting for more. Aside from collecting business cards, every participant will receive a spreadsheet with contact information allowing them to have follow up conversations.

All respectful comments with the commenter’s first and last name are welcome.

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