Tired of dating apps? Bookmark these tips for when you try speed dating

Illustration of a rose, a candle and two people talking on a date in a bar while playing footsie.
(Danie Drankwalter / For The Times)
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Jona Xiao has tried just about every form of dating in hopes of finding her life partner.

The business owner and actor, who’s starred in TV shows like “The Flash” and “S.W.A.T,” has used several dating apps. She’s worked with a professional matchmaker and dating coach. She’s gone to singles mixers and even threw her own event last year. And at one point, she shared a “very detailed” Facebook post with images of herself and context on the type of partner she was looking for, just in case her friends had any recommendations.

But it wasn’t until her ex-fiancé, with whom she’s still friends, sent her an ad about a speed dating event on Instagram that she decided to attend one.


“I was excited by the idea of speed dating because I hadn’t really done anything like that before,” says Xiao, adding that she’d participated in virtual speed dating events via apps like the League and Bumble, but never in person.

Two people hold hands.
A box with stripes and a label that says "Missed Connection? Leave a note"

Two attendees of tantra speed dating hold hands. A missed connection box during a queer-friendly speed dating event at Honey’s at Star Love. (JJ Geiger / For The Times)

Six people sit in a line in a corner against an orange wall
Honey’s at Star Love hosts a queer-friendly speed dating event.
(JJ Geiger / For The Times)

“I just felt like it was going to be an interesting experience regardless of what happened.” She ended up making two matches at a tantra speed dating event and says she’s looking forward to attending more. (Tantra is among the most searched terms related to speed dating in Los Angeles, according to Google Analytics.)

Xiao is one of several Angelenos trying speed dating for the first time in L.A., where the game-like method of going on several dates in a single evening is booming. Every week, you can find everything from tantra to queer and anime-focused express dating events across L.A. County.


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There’s a myriad of benefits for speed dating: You have to get dressed only once for multiple dates, catfishing isn’t an issue like on dating apps, safety is less of a concern because you’ll be with other people in a public place, and the dates are quick (which is great if you’re not feeling a romantic vibe). But above all, relationship experts agree that rapid dating gives you the opportunity to get back into the groove, especially if you’ve been out of the game for a while.

“While I love dating apps for their efficiency and how much they expand someone’s dating pool, I never think it’s the only tool you should use for dating,” says Damona Hoffman, an L.A.-based certified dating coach and host of the podcast “Dates & Mates.”

“Speed dating is a great way to practice the skill of dating. If you only have a limited time to talk to someone, you figure out which stories grab people’s attention, how to make a good first impression [and] how to get comfortable talking to strangers. Even if you don’t meet your future spouse, they present a great opportunity to get back out [there] after COVID and familiarize yourself with communication and attraction skills that may have atrophied [during] lockdown,” says Hoffman.

If you’re nervous or still on the fence about going to a speed dating event in L.A., here’s how to make it a fun experience.

A person seated at a table faces other people in chairs, seen from the waist down
Matt Mulvihill was one of dozens of singles 21 to 30 at the Next Fun Thing speed dating event at Pali Wine Co.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)


1. Think about what to ask in advance

Although hosts will sometimes provide a set of questions for you to ask during your timed dates, some are open format, leaving you in charge of the conversation. Because you have only a limited amount of time to make a lasting impression — typically seven minutes or less — Hoffman recommends thinking about what you’d like to say before you arrive.

“When you don’t prepare, you go into your defaults,” says Hoffman, who is also the love expert on “The Drew Barrymore Show.” “So whether that is just going into an interview-style conversation of, like, ‘Where are you from? What do you do?,’ [it] ultimately is not memorable, and it’s also boring for you.”

Hoffman suggests making a list — or at least thinking about — stories, topics and important details you intend to share during your dates.

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“You never want to be reading off a script, but I find that running through possible conversation points in your mind beforehand can help you remember the important details when your adrenaline kicks in,” she says.


2. Focus on what’s important to you

Part of what makes speed dating so alluring is its game-like nature. You have a condensed amount of time to start a conversation from scratch with a stranger, before doing it all over again with another stranger. Hoffman suggests leaning into the weirdness of it all.


“We already know it’s awkward,” she says. “You don’t have to do a preamble.”

Pieces of paper with sentences typed on them stand in a glass on a table
Questions are printed out as prompts for the speed daters at Honey’s at Star Love.
(JJ Geiger / For The Times)

Instead of reading off your résumé and saying things like, “Hi, I’m Andrea. I’m from Dallas and I’ve lived in L.A. for six years,” Hoffman suggests diving into more interesting details about yourself because the clock is ticking.

Sometimes people think “they have to get all of the information out,” she says. “But people don’t make decisions in dating based on information. They make it based on how they feel. So you want to make them feel heard, like you have a banter and rapport going, and that really happens when you’re listening and jumping the conversation beyond the small talk into things that they really care about.”

May Bugenhagen, a matchmaker and dating coach with L.A. clients, says you should focus on topics that are most meaningful to you.

“If whatever someone does for a living is not important to you, then you actually don’t need to ask that question,” says Bugenhagen, who is also the host of “The Asian Dating Podcast.” “Maybe someone who goes to church and is Christian is important to you. So you can say, ‘What do you do on a typical Sunday morning?’” That way you can get some deal-breaker questions out of the way without sounding like you’re interrogating them, she adds.

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You can also stand out by asking this-or-that questions (e.g., coffee or tea?) or playing two truths and a lie. Another example is saying something like, “I’m going to guess three things about you and you tell me if I’m right or wrong.”


“You can guess what that person does for a living. It can be funny or not, and then that can start up a conversation,” Bugenhagen says.

Although you should skip the small talk, that doesn’t mean you should ask “deep” questions like “What are your relationship goals?” or “Do you plan to have kids?” on a speed date — it’s just a vibe check, not a formal date.

Hoffman says, “For a five-minute introduction, it’s much more important to understand whether you have a vibe or rapport that could sustain a longer date than it is to figure out if that person could be your husband.”

A woman with long straight hair sits with her chin resting on her hand.
Hannah Cantrell gets acquainted with another participant at a Next Fun Thing speed dating event at Pali Wine Co. in the Arts District.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

3. Focus more on listening than talking

A 2017-study by Harvard Business School researchers found that people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, during speed dates are more “likely to elicit agreement for second dates from their partners” than those who don’t.


“We get into these situations, and we think we have to tap dance to make them like us, and we have to have the biggest personality and we have to have the most out-there stories,” Hoffman says.

“But studies show that when people feel heard [and] they really feel like the other person is listening to them, they actually like you more than if you’re doing all of the talking and trying to impress them.”

For example, if someone tells you that they enjoy going to concerts, instead of asking what their favorite genre of music is, you can ask, “What’s the most recent concert you’ve been to?” or “What’s the best show you’ve gone to thus far?” That way, their response can spark a story and a more thoughtful response.

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4. Be OK with not making a match

If you aren’t physically attracted to the person sitting in front of you, or they have failed one of your deal-breaker questions, Hoffman suggests switching into a “mind-set of practice and learning.” After all, dating is a skill or a muscle that you have to exercise.

Instead of sitting there awkwardly waiting for the buzzer to go off for your next date, Hoffman says you should use that time to practice asking follow-up questions and listening.


Participants stand and join hands, facing away from the camera.
Participants join hands during an exercise at a tantra speed dating event in Echo Park.
(JJ Geiger / For The Times)

Bugenhagen adds that it’s important to not shut yourself off because you never know what kind of connection you can make with someone — whether it’s a new wing person, your next employer or even someone you could introduce to a friend who might be a better match.

Also, if you go to a speed dating event with the expectation of “I’m going to meet my person tonight,” you might leave disappointed, says Xiao, the actor.

“But if you go in being open to a variety of connections, which is what I did, you might end up with at least a friend out of it, which I think still makes the experience worthwhile.”