You’re at a networking event and are about to start speaking with someone you just met. You expect to learn a little bit about them and their services and products their company provides.
At some point in your conversation, you are going to want to be able to give out your business card to them and you expect to receive their card in return.
The question most people ask themselves is “when is it appropriate to do so?”
According to bestselling author Tim Houston, “Typically people will introduce themselves and immediately attempt to thrust their business card into the hands of the person they just met.”
“Not only is this rude because it assumes that the other person wants your contact information, it also is incredibly intrusive as you are entering the other person’s ‘personal space’ without permission,” says Houston.
He should know. For the past 16 years, Houston has been the Area Director for the New York City Outer Boroughs Region of BNI, the world’s largest referral marketing organization. He has seen it all when it comes to good networking versus bad networking – so much in fact that he chronicles the “nightmares of networking” in book , The World’s Worst Networker” which has been called “The definitive guide of how NOT to network!”
Houston suggests that anyone can avoid this faux pas by following three simple rules when it comes to giving and asking for business cards.
- “If you are the one who initiated the conversation, do not ask for the other person’s business card until towards the end of the conversation.” “You want to stay focused on the subject and the direction of the conversation. If the conversation is a good one, you want to end it by asking the other person for their card and contact details so that you can stay in touch,” he says. Asking for the card at the end of the conversation shows respect for the other person’s time and their message and sends a message that you listened to them instead of just wanting to get their contact information.”
- “Do not give your business card unless specifically asked by the other person or if you ask and receive permission to give them your card.” Houston says “Just because you’re having a nice conversation doesn’t necessarily mean that other the person wants to stay in touch with you. You may even find yourself looking to get away from them. As cruel as it sounds, there are people who will want your card just so they and put you on their ‘avoid list’.” “If they ask for your card, then give it but always remember to ask if they would like yours in return. Never assume that they do.”
- Make sure that your cards are kept in a spot that is easily accessible. “No one wants to feel awkward. Gentlemen, if you are wearing a jacket, make sure you keep your cards in a pocket on one side and use another pocket inside the jacket or perhaps on your shirt to store the cards from the people you have met at the event. Ladies, you may want to keep your cards in a special spot in your purse or carry around a card case so that you aren’t fumbling looking for cards to give out.”
“We don’t carry business cards.”
A trend that seems to be turning into the norm at some events is that some of the younger attendees at networking events no longer carry business cards.
It has happened several times to Houston over the past few years. “I would have an amazing conversation and towards the end, when I asked for their card, some have told me they don’t have one to give. This doesn’t mean that they would not like to receive my contact information or give me theirs. When I asked why, some have told me they want to conserve and save natural resources; others want to live a minimalist lifestyle without the clutter.” Whatever their reason, I respect it.”
He offers this advice to the ‘seasoned business people” (i.e. those he says are over age 35):
“The immediate reaction by some is to think Millennials are irresponsible or not serious about their job or business. One thing we have to remember is that the Millennials live in a digital world and communicate differently than prior generations.”
To bridge the digital divide, he offers a compromise:
- “I will ask them if they have an app on their smartphone like Evernote or CamCard. Then I will offer my card so that they can take a photo of it as these apps can scan and import contact information directly into their smartphone’s contact manager. (And I’m not offended if they give my card back after doing it).”
- “Then I ask them to either text or email their contact information right there and then, so I can confirm that I got it.”
So remember, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for someone’s business card or to offer to give them your card. When you do ask for it or offer yours towards the end of the conversation, it not only respects the other people’s time and “space” it also makes you a more effective networker.
Robert Russo’s approach as a BNI Director Consultant is to help individuals use the BNI program though “Givers Gain” and word of mouth marketing to grow their business. He has been doing this for 14 years and his goal is to help chapters grow and grow the region which includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and the Bronx.
Non BNI members have even made referrals knowing the strength of the group and what a successful track record BNI has. The best sources for BNI right now are satisfied BNI members and the new trend in social media.