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Speed dating's executive makeover

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- First there was "speed dating," the search for romance reduced to a two-minute conversation with a total stranger.

Now the business world has its own equivalent for card-collecting executives.

And if there's nothing you hate more than working a room for contacts, orange juice in hand, then perhaps "speed networking" could be for you.

Key Contacts, a London-based networking company, introduced "corporate speed dating" breakfasts for its clients last year.

They work the same as the company's regular networking events, with everyone encouraged to "unashamedly promote their business organization."

But at a speed networking meeting, you only get two minutes to impress possible clients or associates.

"The enjoyment, the fun and the pure adrenaline that's running through the room when the speed dating session is going on is absolutely amazing," says Key Contacts' David Mintz.

"There's so much energy and people are really getting into the spirit of it, because they see the value of having that couple of minutes just focused on one person, a one-to-one with every single person in the room."

While two minutes might not be long enough to close a deal, Mintz insists it is more than enough time to know whether someone is worth talking to.

"The whole idea is that this is just a first step," he says. "Your head is telling you in those few seconds whether you are comfortable with a person or not.

"It doesn't matter if it's romance or business, it's human nature. Business runs the same as anything else. It's about people and how people relate to each other. It's a chemistry and that's where the real benefit of it lies."

However, business psychologist Kati St Clair doubts whether a lasting business relationship can be built on such shallow foundations.

"Networking works up to a point, like a beauty parade," she warns. "If you do it very quickly all you can hope for is a glimpse of interest. I have a problem with speeding everything up and thinking it's of great value. Whether it actually enhances our judgment I'm not sure.

"I understand that we all think we don't have enough time but in our great rush we actually rush so much that eventually we pay a large sum of money to professionals to teach us how to slow down."

But time-pressed networkers, such as executive coach Blair Palmer, disagree.

"It would be great to go be able to spend all day with people finding out about their business and maybe going to their place of work and looking at their brochure and their products and all that sort of thing," he says.

"But we're trying to run a business and the rest of the day I need to be getting on with that. This means I can do the networking first thing in the morning and then go back to my office and do a full day's work."

Mintz believes his sessions are ultimately productive for their participants and says his company is merely adapting the old-fashioned business of making contacts for the 21st century.

"It's the oldest yet the newest way to conduct business. People meeting and chatting over a meal -- that's how it's always been done."

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