Summer networking: Five tips for navigating a business card exchange

Several local business card exchanges are on my schedule over the next few weeks. They seem to be popular events, particularly in the summer, possibly because they don't require a large amount of planning from the host organization. Plus, I've found they're usually good events to attend if you're pressed for time or have family obligations, as it's generally easy to stop into one for a half hour or so.

Still, there are some challenges when attending these events, particularly the crowded ones. Sometimes there are so many people are in one room, it's difficult to have more than a couple of conversations. It can even be challenging to find someone you know is already there. Worse, you don't want to be one of those people you see sprinting through the room, flinging business cards at everyone with barely a “Hi, nice to meet you.”

And even if you end up with a pocket or purseful of business cards from new potential contacts, clients or referrals, face it – many of us don't have a solid follow up plan for what to do with their new card collection.

Here are a few tips to make these networking events more worthwhile for you and your business:

  1.  Go in with the mindset of making a handful of meaningful connections, rather than collecting cards from as many people as possible and having no conversation. If you find three new contacts that you'd like to follow up with for a lengthier discussion, you've made it a successful event.
  2. When someone new introduces him or herself and offers you their card, don't immediately put their card away, or just add it to the growing stack. Take a few seconds to read their card in front of them – maybe ask a question or two. If you want to follow up with them on something, maybe jot down a note on the back to the card.
  3. If the event includes food and drink, and you're thirsty or famished, try to get there as early as possible and grab a quick snack or drink before it's crowded so you're not trying to juggle glasses, cocktail napkins and business cards at the same time.
  4. A day or two after the event, make sure to begin following up with individuals you've met. But it probably shouldn't be a “hard sell” follow up. Just a quick note or email. If you do want to schedule a coffee or lunch with someone you've met, make a note in your calendar to follow up with the person and schedule your meeting soon.
  5. And really, don't be one of those people that sprint around a networking event flinging business cards like you're dealing blackjack. You'll be memorable, but for the wrong reason.

Any tips for business networking you'd like to share? Let us know.

Mary Ellen


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