What do women talk about when they get together at a bar?
Anyone who answered romance, weight or clothing ought to have looked in at The Wharf this week, at an event held by the Martha’s Vineyard Woman’s Network.
“So how do you go about assessing the needs of your clientele?” asked Kristin Allen, proprieter of The Shiverick Inn in Edgartown, to Patti Leighton, executive assistant at the Edgartown branch of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. Before Ms. Leighton had time to give a full reply the bell rang, and both women sprang up to move on to their next conversational partner.
Welcome to Speed Networking, a fast paced spin-off of Speed Dating, in which participants are given minutes to meet, exchange business cards, share stories and form potential connections.
“They say that if you can’t present yourself well within the first three minutes of meeting someone, you have no hope,” said Joan Hewson, an event planner whose company takes on such mammoth projects as the Head of the Charles Regatta, and who is now working to move her business on-Island.
Ms. Hewson came to Tuesday night’s event hoping to make connections and wasn’t disappointed. Not only did she and Annie Parr, an interior designer at Island Interiors, come away with the prospect of a future collaboration, they also discovered a link between their respective professions: “We both make theatre,” said Ms. Parr. “It’s the same thing, mine just lasts longer.”
Shakti Reynolds, a broker and realtor at Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate, said that her attendance on Tuesday was not strictly business but also had to do with what she called “one of my goals at this time in my life, which is to have a life!”
Of course, it is the point of overlap between the cash nexus and personal social ties that speed networking aims to exploit. Ms. Reynolds understands this connection well — most of the work she is doing at Coldwell right now in the absence of sales, she said, involves combing through contacts lists and keeping up her relationships with former clients. “You just never know which contact it’s going to be,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, references to the recession and its effects on local businesses peppered the conversation of all the event’s attendees.
Ms. Leighton noted that the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank’s charitable giving this year is going towards the barest physical necessities. “It’s going to be food, heat, shelter,” she said.
Filamena Mulvey, a cheerful blonde who was handing out two cards — one reading Lighthouse Properties and the other A Fresh Start Cleaning Service — had a story that read like the American melodrama in miniature.
Until about a year ago, Ms. Mulvey was doing spectacular business as a real estate agent. “One month I had seven closings,” she said. “I thought it would never end. But then it just stopped completely.”
Because she speaks Portuguese, Ms. Mulvey had been working with the company’s Brazilian clients, many of whom received the sub-prime loans that have since proved so troublesome for the American and world economy.
Now, as her former clients lose the houses she helped them obtain and the real estate market stagnates, Ms. Mulvey has changed her tack. “I figured if I can’t sell houses, I’ll just clean them!”
So far she has three accounts, and hoped to pick up more over the course of the evening. Although she acknowledges that her new business brings her into competition with some of her former clients, she insists that she doesn’t want to steal anyone’s business. “The way I see it, everybody wants a change sometimes,” she said.
Ms. Parr echoed Ms. Mulvey’s “fresh start” mentality. “If you’re creative you’ll get out of any situation — you’ll reinvent yourself,” she said.
This kind of optimism and faith in creative self, in the midst of the bleak economic forecast, also showed up in Brooke Hardman Ditchfield, who is in the midst of launching a film/television/theatre/party planning outfit that seeks to make “sustainable art,” and in Nevenka Koracevich Daniels, who is working to move her hobby — calligraphy — into a sideline business.
Annie Murphy, the events coordinator for the women’s network and an agent at Sandpiper Realty, introduced the speed-networking night because she felt the monthly meetings and panels held by the network do not offer enough time for one-on-one discussion. This was the second event of its kind, and Ms. Murphy seemed pleased with the outcome. “I think people worry, ‘If I shell out my knowledge, will they steal it?’” she said. “And it’s just not like that. It’s great for women to get together and share their experiences, not just their successes in business, but the ups and downs as well.”
Danielle Bailey, owner of Kiddo’s children’s store and treasurer for the women’s network, also expressed her enthusiasm: “It’s like this crazy trail — someone knows someone who will help you,” she said.