The session was all about accessing finance, and consisted of an initial panel discussion between investors and businesses who had experience in raising finance, followed by networking between delegates. The room was a pretty event split between businesses looking to raise finance and investors which was wonderful (it’s often more business heavy), and to help break the ice we introduced the concept of unicorns and superheroes…
Upon arrival delegates were given a sticker to wear – unicorns for the businesses (see what we did there), and superheroes for the investors. No one was told what this meant but it instantly lightened the room and allowed for conversation starters between delegates as they took their seats for the session.
After the insightful panel discussion it was time for networking, so everyone was invited to stand up and find someone with a sticker opposite to theirs (unicorns had to find superheros and visa versa) to discuss the question promoted on the screen. With just 4 minutes to chat before finding a new unicorn or superhero the conversations were quick but focused and the playful sparkly stickers really lightened the mood on what can traditionally be an intimidating topic.
As well as being fun, interactive, and providing conversation starts for delegates this activity had a deeper side to it, and it involves something called ‘social distance’…
Social distance is a construct that measures how close or distant two groups of people, or individuals, feel from each others. Often applied to social class, ethnicity/race, or gender, in this context I’m applying it to sector. Levels of social distance between groups is often measured by empathy; the higher the levels of empathy between people the lower the social distance that separates them, and when empathy is lower the greater the social distance is. When two groups have a lot of things in common for example, they’re more likely to feel higher levels of empathy and can often find it easier to communicate, build trust, and therefor network! Reduce the commonality, through in differences in language, and networking can become more difficult.
In this context the social distance between investors and businesses can sometimes feel huge – the two groups, although having the same vested interest, have different areas of expertise, objectives, and even dress and communicate differently. The dynamic of power can also come into play here, with businesses feeling the pressure to impress investors as they poses something they want or need. This can create a sense of vulnerability among businesses making networking even more intimidating.
The introduction of the sticker activity was a great way to embrace and highlight to two groups in a positive, approachable way. Taking away the unknown and allowing people to easily identify each other instantly. It also highlighted the power that both groups have – investors are always looking for the next unicorn! Putting delegates from both groups into one singular group (people wearing stickers!) helps to increase levels of empathy and in turn reduce social distance.