Abstract Most Extension educators seek new ideas for organizing more exciting and animated workshops and conferences.This article describes structured networking activities (also know as "speed dating") that succeed in enlivening meetings, strengthening networking, and improving learning.The event organizer gives up control of the actual content of the interactions, but that is a small price to pay. Speed networking (or speed business meeting) is a meeting format designed to accelerate business contacts, generally with a bell.The original speed dating was introduced as a way of promoting a safe and quick way of meeting a broad variety of date candidates.(A simple "Google search" will uncover many examples.) The Oregon Farmers' Market Association (OFMA) holds an annual conference to educate market managers about current issues.Extending these unstructured networking periods provides one way to improve these events.But another, underutilized means for strengthening them is by carefully integrating structured networking periods into the conference schedule.
Furthermore, the change of pace played a valuable role in the day.The experienced managers listed three significant lessons they had learned in managing markets. The experienced managers stayed put, while the inexperienced rotated one station.The experienced mangers lined up against one wall (think an 8 grade dance), and then the inexperience managers selected one for a conversation. Instructions were given to talk about either the same topics (since different people might have different views) or new ones. After a second period had passed, this conversation was closed, and the speed mentoring ended.A panel of veteran market managers providing tips and suggestions has always been valuable, but it suffers from a format that is too similar to all the other sessions.At the 2003 meeting, OFMA replaced the panel with "Speed Mentoring." The entire group divided itself into two categories--experienced managers and inexperienced managers.A more classic version of speed dating was used during the Farmer-Chef Connection, an educational event that seeks to foster better relationships between chefs and individual farmers.