London's latest night out is a networking party. ANNA MELVILLE- JAMES fans her business cards
Talk to a psychologist and they'll tell you that the majority of their clients share the same great fear. The idea that they must walk into a room full of strangers - and talk to them. Surprising then to discover that one of the most popular nights out in London at the moment is a networking club.

First Tuesday is based on the American model of clubs such as the Drinks Exchange. The events are held on the first Tuesday of every month in different venues around London, and simultaneously in 16 other countries. Admission is free and advertising is by word of mouth but in that medium's most modern form - those in the loop pass on the First Tuesday news to friends and acquaintances via e-mail. The huge success of this Chinese whispers strategy means admission to the events is on a lottery basis - the first people to respond to the e-mail announcing each event are the ones who get to go.

"Spiritually, First Tuesday is very American," says Julie Meyer, one of the First Tuesday founders, who doesn't sound as if she ever lies awake at night worrying about her talent for small talk. "It's about going out there and selling yourself and your ideas. Everbody's looking for a piece of the puzzle and the club can put you in touch with that vital person."

I grab a glass of (free) wine at September's party and head into the crowd to strike up the conversation that will surely lead to my becoming chairman of ICI. Everyone has a name tag and a colour-coded sticker: green for entrepreneurs, red for venture capitalists and yellow for "other". I am yellow. Unfortunately my grasp of networking etiquette is shaky. Should I talk to the red dots first? Can I interrupt an earnest conversation between two green dots? Will everyone shun me for being a lowly, unidentified yellow dot? Fortunately the social rules at First Tuesday are flexible and the absence of sang-froid positively tropical.

There are more than enough urbane young professionals reeking of success to target. No cyber-geeks with square-eyes in sight. The ratio of men to women is also striking; by my calculations 5:1. However, forget any thoughts of dating - the room bristles with adrenalin and intensity and there's no time for flirting. I realise this when a venture capitalist enquires whether I would like his 10 second personal introduction or his 30 second one. Clock's ticking, deals to do, people to meet.

A cool breeze is generated by the sheer number of business cards changing hands and within half an hour I've accumulated three and still rising. I'm in no danger of relaxing. Every time I attempt to hide behind a potted palm and rest awhile someone strikes up a conversation.

"It all depends how enthusiastic you are as to how many contacts you make. Tonight I've got maybe six or seven business cards", says First Tuesday first-timer, Valentina Britten, here to turn her on-line dating service into a global phenomenon.

Venture capitalist, Michael Chalfen, networking by the picnic table, agrees: "It's a great environment for suggestions, and less formal so it fosters a natural exchange of information. It's also a good place to catch up with friends you never see because they're working too hard."

Horrific as the thought of meeting up with your friends only at business functions might be, working hard is the definition of hip for First Tuesday acolytes. "We have the momentum, the trust and all the good human qualities here to help people progress," says Julie Meyer. "With that we can change the world."

She's already changed mine. In the taxi on the way home I phone a friend, who shrieks with amusement when I tell her I've been networking. These are the parties of the future, I tell her, ruffling my cache of business cards in exhaustion.

For further information log on to: