11 ways to win at speed dating

Your fingers might be tired from all that Tinder typing and swiping, or you might just want to mix things up and do a bit of IRL dating. Either way, there’s no quicker way to get yourself in front of potential matches than speed dating. While it can be daunting to get your head around, seeing and meeting others in the flesh definitely helps to cut out a lot of the initial back-and-forth that takes place with online dating, and you get the chance to make your mind up about someone much quicker.

Robert Ryall, who founded speed dating company Date in a Dash eight years ago, knows his stuff when it comes to speed dating, and he shares his top tips for getting it right.

Look sharp

The first tip to success at any speed dating event is to look sharp. For men in particular, it’s important to make an effort (girls generally do!) and look the part. Don’t come along wearing an old pair of trainers and a creased or baggy shirt – first impressions count. Go for a smart/casual look. Not only should you look good but you should also smell good, so spritz some aftershave and chew some gum. “It still amazes me when people turn up and they say to me: ‘I’m just popping out for a smoke’ or to grab some food before an event starts. Don’t do it,” says Rob. Also, avoid bringing any unnecessary items with you like bags or shopping: it’s just not cool to be moving from table to table carrying your work rucksack or lunch box!

Have no expectations

Speed dating is quite random and some events are much better than others. If you have high expectations that you’re going to meet ‘the one’ at your first speed dating event then you might be disappointed. “I would say treat it as a bit of fun, as a night out with friends with no expectations, and you might be pleasantly surprised” says Rob.

Arrive early

There is nothing worse than rushing from work, not knowing where you’re going and bursting into the room late. Plan your trip, and get there early to familiarise yourself with the venue. Have a drink at the bar to calm any nerves; go to the toilet if you need to; meet the host and get on friendly terms.

Chat before the event

“One of the biggest tips I can give is to try and talk to other guests before the event starts. Generally what happens is that men tend to gather on one side of the room and the women on the other. This can get awkward, especially if you’re the first guy in the room and there are already two or three girls sitting down. If you then proceed to pull your phone out and busy yourself on it, it makes you look shy and lacking confidence.

“The beauty about our events is that everyone has paid to be there and are looking to meet people so you have no reason to fear any sort of rejection by saying hello before the event starts. Not everyone will have the balls to do this but the ones that do get a big advantage as they get extra time talking to their dates and it gets them in a talkative state before the event,” adds Rob.

Work out dynamics

Quite a lot of the time, girls will come in small groups. Men tend to fly solo although they sometimes come with a friend. It’s important that you work out who is friends with who before you complete your scorecard. If you get to the event late then you might not be aware of the dynamics and could end up matching with two best friends who will ultimately discuss their matches and both decide not to respond. You could also land yourself in hot water if you start discussing potential dates with one of the girls’ male friends.

Equally, sometimes it’s actually better to attend these events on your own and not in large groups. It can be quite intimidating and actually difficult to speak to a girl who is part of a larger group, particularly if the other girls are not interested in staying after the event.

Don’t ask boring questions

Let’s be serious: people are looking to meet someone interesting. Avoid questions like: ‘what do you for work?’ like the plague. “Never ask if they’ve been speed dating before. If they ask you and you have, just say no! You don’t want them thinking you’re a serial speed dater right?” says Rob.

Be funny, topical, ask a few questions about your date and listen to their answers. Try and link responses into new questions to build rapport.. e.g. ‘Where are you from?’ If she says ‘France’ you could say…’Oh really, my favourite food is French cuisine. In fact, I am learning to cook…’ Try and stand out as much as you can from the crowd. Most people will ask the basic questions and it can turn into a bit of a job interview after a while.

Flirt

“This is something that I really don’t see enough. Although three to four minutes is pretty quick it’s still enough time to use your flirting techniques” says Rob. If you like someone then give a compliment.

Don’t get blind drunk

It sounds obvious but there is nothing worse than someone knocking a drink over, being too loud, asking inappropriate questions or making a tit of themselves!

Complete the scorecard

“We use scorecards to match dates up, so make sure you follow the rules and complete it otherwise you won’t get any matches” explains Rob.

Stay on after the event

The real fun happens after the event ends; the ice is broken and everyone is relaxed. By this point you’ll know who you want to speak to more. Rob says: “I often find that the ones who stay afterwards generally have more success. The people that leave straight away and rely solely on the matching system can be forgotten.”

Follow up

The following day when you receive your matches, follow up with anyone you are interested in and try and exchange numbers as quickly as possible. “Move from text to phone conversation within a day or two if you can, and arrange your first date within the first week,” Rob concludes.

Date in a Dash events take place in London every week. See the line up.

This is a paid post.
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Step into London’s Bake Off tent: could you be crowned star baker? Plus, speed dating meets baking

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Have you always wanted to take part in the Great British Bake Off? You’re in luck – a baking tent has popped up in Tooting and you can head down and compete for the chance to be crowned star baker.

As well as baking competitions, the tent is also the setting for something a little more unusual: a speed-dating baking event, First Bakes. It’s a bit like First Dates meets Bake Off, and it’s a laughter-filled evening – much less intense and cringe-inducing than bog-standard speed dating.

You don’t need to be a pro baker to sign up – you’re provided with the recipe, ingredients and equipment, and there are helpers floating about all the time to give you a hand if you need it. The ladies stay at their stations and the men rotate every 10 minutes. While I don’t want to give away too many details, it’s a formula that does work: there are rarely awkward silences because you’re both focused on building a brilliant bake. As you’ve instantly got something to bond over the conversation flows easily and by the time the 10 minutes are up, you’ve also got a sense of your date’s culinary prowess. If you’ve dabbled with online dating apps previously, think of this as a good way to cut out days of swiping/sending introductory messages back and forth, as you can decide straight away whether you feel there’s a connection.

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Just like on the television programme, the competition really heats up at the end: time’s up and you have to bring your bakes to the head table for inspection. The judges – sadly no Mary Berry, but some bubbly hosts – sample the delights and pick a star baker. The lady chosen must then pick her best male helper (plot twist!) and both get to take home a lovely little gift. You can taste each other’s bakes and take the rest home. Plus, there’s all of the mess and none of the washing up – whoop.

The love bit: after the judging you submit your scorecard – stating who you would consider going on a date with, who you’d like to be friends with, and who you wouldn’t want to see again. It’s all calculated there and then, and you get a lovely handwritten note with any mutual matches and their contact details.

I headed down for the launch event on Valentine’s Day, and although it suffered the same problem that most speed dating events do – too few men and too many women (8:10) – it didn’t matter too much. Although learning that the organisers had to ship in their housemates/friends to fill spaces was a tiny bit annoying, considering the £47 ticket price. Having a cameraman pointing his screen at you during sections of the evening was a bit unsettling but on the whole it was a brilliant night – and I may or may not have come away with a hot date match and a friend match…

Big London Bake takes place in the garden section of the lovely Castle Pub in Tooting.

I think I met a serial killer… Speed dating in St Paul’s

“Never again,” I’d decided after a nauseating speed dating experience three years ago. Where I’d expected cute, dateable men; instead I found a lot of desperate wife-hunters with mental checklists in tow. “Do you eat meat?”, “Are you religious?”, “Do you smoke?” were the sorts of questions fired my way, along with the bog-standard, “Where do you work?” Boring.

I’d also made the classic errors of a) failing to tick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ straight after each speed date, and b) failing to make any notes to distinguish each man from the next. As a result, by the end I’d confused myself entirely as to who was who and had a banging headache, so I hastily ticked a few boxes on the scorecard before handing in my slip – only to regret the entire thing the next morning, when I emailed the organisers and asked them to remove my scorecard from the count. WUSS! But in my defence, speed dating was a bit much for my 23-year-old self.

So, last night – three years on – and armed with another single friend, a new scorecard and a renewed sense of optimism, I gave it another punt. It was the same formula: women sit at tables around the room, men move from table to table every three minutes when the whistle is blown – and it wasn’t actually that bad.

I should interject before I go on that I do think speed dating should come with a firm caution along the lines of: ‘It is entirely possible you’ll have crap, awkward dates where the three-minute slot may feel like an eternity. This is perfectly normal. We cannot be held accountable for the shittiness of the talent on offer.’

I didn’t walk away from the night with the feeling that I’d met my Prince Charming, but I did meet an entire spectrum of men – from the weird one who gave off a serial killer-vibe (more on him in a second), to the beardy man who chatted to me for an extra 40 seconds after the whistle was blown. Aw!

This time around I was on top form: I made the ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘friend’ selection on my scorecard as the night progressed, and I made notes too. My notes mostly consisted of a word or sentence that reminded me of the date – for example, for the one mentioned above I wrote ‘big beard’, another I wrote ‘Egyptian’, and another I wrote ‘gay?’

Conversation flowed and some guys actually came prepared with interesting icebreaker questions – for example, one asked, ‘if you could host a dinner party, who would you invite?’ Even if he did use the same line on all the ladies, it did make it a more positive experience.

I also appreciated the fact that there was a ‘friend’ option on the scorecard of the Original Dating event, which meant you weren’t outright rejecting, just friendzoning.

Just as I was starting to relax and actually enjoy the night, the scary/weird/odd man, who I’ve decided to nickname the ‘serial killer’ came to my table. He had a stone-cold look on his face as he sat down, and when I asked his name, he grabbed my scorecard and wrote his name down rather than telling me it, and he asked me to do the same. He wrote his name in big angry capital letters too.

Next he said, in broken English: “I’m [insert name], I’m 31 years old and I’m looking for a girlfriend.” *Conversation killer!* I wracked my brain for a quick fire back, and came up with some generic questions about where he lives, what he does for a living and what brought him to London, etc. Bearing in mind he’d been talking at me for about a minute by now, there was a pause as I thought of something to try and continue the conversation. He rudely interrupted my thoughts with the question: “So are you going to ask me a question or what?” DEMANDING.

Ok, I came up with the topic of films: films should be the winning topic to save the day, I thought. “Do you like watching films? Films?” I asked as I wasn’t sure if he could totally understand me. “Yes, I like films with blood. You know, killing.” The background noise was getting louder and my expression may have suggested that I couldn’t hear him. At this point, he reiterated his point, saying “killing films” and made wild stabbing gestures towards me with an imaginary knife to illustrate. That was when I thought, “Errr, when’s that f*cking whistle going to blow? I’m about to die here.” I picked up my drink and took a long, long sip. The whistle still hadn’t blown. I took another sip, and did it again. Then I inquired as to whether this was his first time speed dating. No, he said – it was his third time because the last two times he didn’t get any matches. No bloody surprise! Then the whistle saved me. Hurrah.

That entire experience did, however, make me question the number of male speed daters who turned up to speed dating alone. Is that weird, or is it just a very female thing to want to take a friend everywhere you go?

Aside from the serial killer, there were 15 other men I met at speed dating – one I found really boring because he wanted to talk about politics, another piqued my interest as he revealed bits of his bucket list to me and asked me to do the same, and one offended me straight away by saying he thought my name was odd. Of the 15, I actually enjoyed talking to about 5 of them. It was a real mixed bag, and I think that with speed dating, ultimately you won’t know what you’ll find till you get there.

One cool thing about the Original Dating event was that you didn’t have to give your scorecard in to anybody at the end of the event – you could take it home and have a think before entering your choices into its unique smartphone app, Mixeo. This buys you time to make an objective decision the next morning. The app then tells you who you matched with and links your profiles so you can use its private in-app messaging system to chat to them if you want.

Would I speed date again? Probably not. But I met a serial killer and survived, so here we are.

PS Top trick for speed dating: one girl at the event revealed that she ticks ‘yes’ to every speed date to see who matches her before deciding who she’d actually like to talk to or date – I suppose it’s a bit like swiping right to everyone on Tinder. If you’re brave enough, you could do the same.