Suppose you were out having lunch with a new business acquaintance and when your food was delivered to the table, your lunch partner reached over with her hand and sampled your meal.
Would you think they were rude? Lacking proper social etiquette? You’d be offended and probably lose your appetite. Besides ranking their social grace at zero, you’d also seriously question their professional competence as well.
The example I shared above is extreme. But here’s the point: all it takes is one wrong move to jeopardize your professional image. At live networking events, where you only have 30 seconds to make a good first impression, you cannot afford to make the wrong move. Regardless of how shallow it may seem, the world first judges us on how we appear. It’s more than looks and clothes – it’s demeanor, presence, body language, how confident you appear engaging with others. And all of that can be picked up in a first glance or notice, or with the first handshake.
So let’s say you are dressed well, your confidence is high and your body language is clearly communicating that you are a person worth knowing. You’re 50% there. I’ve seen well dressed people still leave a bad impression (even if the first one was good) because of bad networking etiquette. Some of the worst mistakes I see at networking events are people not understanding how to use their business card. Here are a few tips on what to do and what not to do with your business card at networking events.
Have you ever had someone come up to you while you are talking to someone else and slip a business card in your hand and keep moving. Not only is it distracting, especially if the two people are making a great connection, it is also annoying. It’s the equivalent to receiving junk mail at your house. Unless you asked for information about the Tremble 3500 vacuum cleaner, chances are you are not going to joyfully read the advertisement that came in the mail – especially if you are as busy as most of us are.
You ask: But shouldn’t the goal be to get my name and contact info in front of as many people as possible?
Answer: Yes, and that is what advertising is for. Get a billboard, take out an ad, get a web page. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you successfully networked with a hundred people because you handed out a hundred business cards.
One of the goals of networking is to identify qualified leads or referral sources. That doesn’t mean that you don’t meet and talk to people outside of those targets. But it does mean you are selective about who you choose to exchange information with.
If I am interested in connecting with someone beyond an event, I will ask for a way to contact them. Notice that I did not say I will give them my card or give them my contact information. Why? If I give them my card, I have no control over whether they will contact me or not. If I get their information I have access to follow up with a phone call, via email, or by connecting through their website. Passing out my card to 20 people does not mean that I will get 20 calls. But acquiring contact information of 20 people who are VIP’s (very interested prospects) guarantees that I will have 20 people to add to my follow-up list.
Why take someone’s card if you are not going to follow up. Send an email. Make a quick call. Send them a physical card. But do something to capitalize on the meeting. This doesn’t have to be complicated. You could send a group email message inviting them to subscribe to your list, be sure to use blind carbon copy (bcc) only. Before you send updates about new products or services get to know them – ask them how you can help them. If after further examination you don’t think you can use the person’s contact information – toss it. Your desk will thank you.
You ask: But can’t I just keep the card in case I need the service later?
Answer: Yes you can. But it seems more likely that if you needed a service from someone you didn’t already have in your network, you would ask someone you know for a referral. Choosing a random card from your “stash” and assuming that because you have a card, that person is part of your network can be disastrous. You have no experience with the quality of their work or their customer service level. If you don’t plan to explore their services in the next 30 or 60 days, toss the card. Don’t even hold onto it, in case someone else needs them – one of the quickest ways to ruin your reputation is refer someone you know next to nothing about.
3 Brilliant Ideas for the take away:
Tai Goodwin on a mission to help 10,000 women entrepreneurs create more joy and wealth in their life and business. She's the CEO of Aligned + Bankable and creator of the Bankable Brilliance Course. An intuitive business growth strategist and teacher, her specialty is helping clients create bankable business models that allow them to increase their impact and income without burning out. Tai is a former corporate trainer with a master's degree in instructional design and over 20 years of experience designing course, training programs, and certifications. She is also the author of Girlfriend, It's Your Time and founder of Brilliant Business Girlfriends.