A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk at the Australian Computer Society about how powerful personal stories can be for inspiring change. Most people don’t realise their own lives are full of inspiring stories. As an opener, I told the story of the first time I experienced this power for myself.

It was my first year in Toastmasters and I gave a speech I didn’t expect to have an impact; it was just a bit of fun. I titled it Secrets of Speed Dating Success and told the true story of how I attended a speed dating event in 2009 and met a wonderful man—a French pâtissier—who is now my partner.  To my complete surprise I had the full, absorbed attention of everyone that night, and I had to stay back long afterwards because they all wanted to ask my advice.

I told this story in my recent talk simply to illustrate the kind of unexpected, inspirational impact that personal stories can have.  However, one attendee sent me a follow-up email: “I am interested in the speed dating tips you mentioned. Could you send me the list of tips?”

I laughed when I read this request, and I think there is a lesson here for me. I thought the important part of my message was about the power of stories to inspire change, but at least part of my audience thought the important take-away was my experience as a successful speed dater.  As I should know by now, no matter what you’re talking about, it’s the stories you tell that stick with people.

So for those who are curious, here are my speed dating tips.

It started like this.  My flatmate Hayley laid down the challenge.  She'd never tried it herself but a friend of hers was raving about it, and Hayley said she’d do it if I did.  My divorce had been final for a few months and it was time to get back out there.  The idea fascinated and terrified me at the same time.

The first step is to sign up with a company that organises speed dating events.  Hayley and I signed up with Fast Impressions. This part is easy, and it's free.  You only give your name, age, gender, email address, and the age range and gender you are interested in meeting.  There are no profiles or check boxes.   There is no attempt to match you up with someone based on other characteristics.  I think this randomness is one of the wonderful aspects of speed dating because you have no preconceived notions about the people you will meet.

Next, the company starts to invite you to events that match your age range.  The invitation might say something like, “You will meet 10 to 12 men between the ages of 36 and 46.”  When you find an event that suits you, you book yourself in and pay the fee, which is non-refundable to discourage you from chickening out.  

1. You get what you pay for
This brings me to my first tip for speed dating success.  You get what you pay for.  Some companies charge as little as $30 for an event.  Avoid these. They will not attract the kind of people you want to meet.   Think of it this way. The amount of money you pay is a reflection of how much value you place on the time of the other people who are attending the event.  After all, they are investing an evening in meeting you, an evening they might have spent in other ways.  People who have only paid $30 to attend the event do not have respect for your time.  They may decide not to show up.  They may treat it as a joke.  You can expect to pay around $90 for a standard speed dating event.

2. Go alone
As it turned out, Hayley and I could never find an event we could both go to, so I plunged in and went by myself.  This turned out to be a good thing and is my second tip for speed dating success.  Go alone, don’t go with a friend.  Because what happens if afterwards you both wind up dating the same person?  That would be weird.  It’s much better to go by yourself.  You are not 14 anymore going to your first school dance.  You do not need a friend there for moral support on your date.

3. You must actually show up
Now comes the hardest part.  Getting to the event.  When the evening arrives, you will not want to go.  It will be pouring down rain.  You will be having a bad hair day.  You will have a headache.  A little voice will whisper in your ear that they will all be losers anyway and it’s a waste of time.  Another voice will ask whether you wouldn’t much rather curl up on the sofa and watch House of Cards.  These are the voices of the enemy.  Do not listen to them. You must go.  This is my third tip for speed dating success.  You must actually show up.

4. Don't be too attached to the outcome
So you get to the event.  Mine was at Bar Europa on Elizabeth Street in the city, downstairs in a private function room.  You are met by your host and given a glass of champagne and a name tag with your first name only.  You mingle with the other people before the event starts.  This part, I’ll be honest, is weird.  What should you do?  Should you check out the competition?  Should you focus on your targets and try to draw early attention to your fabulous coolness?  My advice and my next important tip for speed dating success is to relax and just enjoy the experience.  Don’t be too attached to the outcome.  You are here to meet some interesting people whom you otherwise would not have met.  You might want to see some of them again, and you might not.  Just have a good time and enjoy meeting some new people.

The room is set up in 12 tables for two.  When it’s time to start, the host tells all the women to sit down at a table.  Then the men choose a table across from a woman.  There is a card in front of you, and a pen.  You chat with the person across from you for seven minutes.  You write their first name on the card, and if you think you might like to see them again you tick “yes” next to their name.  If you are not interested, you tick “no”.  After seven minutes the host bangs a gong. The men move one table to the right; the women stay where they are, and you repeat the process until you’ve talked with everyone.  Usually the seven minutes goes very quickly.  Occasionally it lasts a long, long time.  

At the end of the evening everyone turns their cards in to the host, who will work out the matches.  A match is a “yes/yes,” meaning both people would be interested in seeing each other again.  A “yes/no” is not a match.  After the event the host will send you the names and email addresses of your matches.  And then it is up to you.  I ticked yes to four people during the evening, and three of those ticked yes next to my name.  The organiser emailed me my three matches later that night.

5. Nail the follow up
This brings me to my final tip—the follow up.  It is in two parts.  For the women: do nothing until he contacts you.  He already knows you’re interested.  Let him be the pursuer.  Men like that; honestly, they do.  But once he contacts you, don’t make it hard to set up a date.  You may need to clear your schedule for a couple of weeks so you have good availability.  And for the men: be fast and decisive.  You are in competition with all the other men at the event who found her fascinating.  Get in there first, and invite her to dinner.  You’ve already had your coffee date. 

This is what Dom had in spades over the other two.  (Although I admit the French accent was a strong point in his favour.)  He contacted me the same evening, said he would love to see me again, and invited me to dinner on Saturday.  There was no need for a lot of back-and-forth.  This was how I knew he was a real man and that he was genuinely interested in me. He paid for dinner, by the way. All three of my matches contacted me within 24 hours, and I did go out with all of them, but it took much longer to set up dates with the other two, and by then I had already made my choice.

So these are my top tips for speed dating success.  One, you get what you pay for.  Two, go by yourself, not with a friend.  Three, ignore the voices of the enemy and actually show up to the event.  Four, don’t be too attached to the outcome.  Just relax and enjoy the experience of meeting some new people.  And five, the follow up.  Ladies, let him contact you.  Men, be quick, invite her to dinner, and make it easy.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend It’s Just a Date! How to get ‘em, read ‘em and rock ‘em, by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt.