The need for speed

In Communicate, Dubai, Opinion, Published journalism on November 23, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Is two minutes enough time to forge a creative collaboration? The organizers of Match networking night think it is

Originally published in Communicate, September 2009

A bell chimes. Members of the crowd shuffle round like players in a game of musical chairs, and collectively take their seats. Everyone is now sitting opposite someone they’ve never met before. They lean forward and begin to sell themselves to their new acquaintances. Fast.

Speed is of the essence at Match, a creative networking night hosted by Shelter, a “community workspace” in Dubai. Arts organization Thinking Cloud and events-company 9714 were also behind the night. According to organizer Sonia Brewin, the inspiration for the idea was speed dating.

It comes hot on the heels of Portfolio Night, a global event (held regionally in Dubai, Beirut and Tunis) where recent advertising graduates are given fifteen minutes in front of creative directors to pitch for a job. But while Portfolio Night gives its participants quarter of an hour at a time, those involved in Match get only two minutes.

The organizers debated extending this meet-and-greet time to three minutes, but co-organizer Simone Sebastian says there would be too much opportunity for awkward silences.

There are 22 participants in the second Match session (Communicate was on holiday when the first was held), and they sit in 11 pairs of chairs, facing each other. Every 120 seconds they shift one seat to the left (one participant has been ordered to stay in her chair through the whole session to make the math work. You figure it out, we certainly can’t). To preserve the equation of everyone-meets-everyone-else, latecomers aren’t welcome.

Typically, Communicate turns up late, and therefore has to hover on the sidelines, eavesdropping.

“I find the best way is just to ask, ‘Who are you and what are you looking for?’” says Sebastian.

The answer to this question is varied. All the participants are involved in Dubai’s creative scene in one way or another, and all of them are looking to meet other creatives – to hire, to work for, to collaborate with, or simply to bounce ideas off. They can be cool, retro and ironic together – that sort of thing.

Creatives want to meet and be met. The organizers say they had to reject around ten people who applied to come to the session in order to keep the numbers manageable. And that’s in the middle of August, when many Dubaians are away; at the first session, held in July, 30 attended and 12 didn’t make the cut.

Communicate listens in, and after the session (it takes 42 minutes, roughly) asks participants who they are and what they are looking for.

Alison Barrett, a digital project manager, is looking for a job. She is one of a handful of staff laid off by indie agency The Tribe at the start of the summer, and has been touting her services around town since then. Although she’s not leaving Match with a new contract, she says the two-minute format makes for good interview practice.

“Internet mastermind” Fahed Bizarri is looking for people to add to a freelance database he is setting up. But he says he is like most other participants – his aim is as much to meet creatives as anything else.

Dominic, a German architect, is one of the exceptions to that rule. He is looking for access to buildings. His company arranges architectural tours of the city, and he wants more places to take his clients.

The organizers say that Match is as much about discovering people with similar – and different – ideas as it is about finding someone who fits your specific criteria. Which is why many attendees find themselves going off on tangents, and carrying on those conversations after the session has ended.

As with any other speed dating-type event, though, a few participants were no doubt glad to have been saved by the bell.


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