On The Road Again: 7 Tips For Networking While Traveling
You never know where or when your next collaboration may appear. If you are traveling for work, or even if you are in your home city attending a conference or a large event, being ready to talk about the work you do and opportunities you are looking for may result in options that did not exist before.
I have met people who became clients in airports. I have randomly been seated next to someone at a table for a fundraiser where I did not know anyone, and the person ended up being a friend who referred work to me.
So how do you maximize the possibility for connection and collaboration anytime, anywhere? You can recognize that you can connect professionally with someone in almost any situation.
While on an airplane, for instance, “First, acknowledging the person next to you is simply a polite thing to do. Second, an amazing connection can happen,” according to BCBusiness.
“For example, when a senior businesswoman we know began a conversation with the person in the seat next to her, it was the start of a business relationship. That discussion resulted in her being invited to join the board of her seatmate’s multinational oil and gas company. She eventually became the chair,” write Gayle Hallgren-Rezac, Judy Thomson and Darcy Rezac, principals of Shepa Learning Company, and authors of Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life.
If you have layovers, an exceptionally long cocktail hour at a conference or a wait at a professional dinner between courses, maximize your time by doing these five tips.
Dress professionally and be polite at all times. Even if you are catching an early or late flight for a business trip, being super casual wearing leggings or ripped sweats is not ideal. You do not have to wear a dress, jacket or skirt, but look polished. And don’t ever create a scene with any staff at a hotel, airline, anywhere by being loud or rude. Not only is that a bad practice for anyone at any time, but if you make yourself memorable for the wrong reasons, it could come back to haunt you. And never get intoxicated on a plane or any networking event. You don’t know who is noticing.
Tell your story, but not too much. You do want to have a narrative set to go when someone asks you what to do, but be brief. Ask questions of the other person, do not hog all the airtime. Realize that you want to offer small bites and have someone ask you to tell them more. “Networking events are a bit like being set up on a blind date, and similar rules apply. Don’t take over the conversation and talk about yourself and your business. People want to feel that you are genuinely interested in them. Ask questions to get to know the other person and understand what they do. As you build a personal connection, potential business opportunities often present themselves,” writes Hannah Taylor of Ironistic in Forbes.
Be intentional, but also low key. Of course you are not scoping every lobby or airport gate looking for possible allies, but you do want to be ready for casual conversation that could result in some professional plus. “If you go into it with the intention of getting new leads or gathering X amount of business cards, it’s likely to become uncomfortable. I was recently given the best networking advice: Be authentic and simply try to make a new friend. This takes the pressure off, allows you to be yourself and leads to stronger connections,” Tanya Carlsson of Offleash writes in Forbes.
Come off confident, not awkward. Let the conversation evolve naturally and don’t be too forceful, pushy or rehearsed. “In her research at Science of People, Vanessa Van Edwards, behavioral investigator and author of Captivate, has found that awkwardness tends to happen in aimless conversations. You’re not sure what to talk about and you don’t want to jump right in to the hard pitch, so you essentially end up meandering,” writes Jamie Kravitz at Business Insider. “’Eliminate awkwardness by eliminating aimlessness. Every conversation should have a purpose,’ Van Edwards said. “The purpose isn’t to sell yourself, but to search for commonalities between yourself and the other person. “
Exchange contact information. I still believe in printed business cards as it seems everywhere I go, someone asks for them. Have them ready to go in a pocket of your carry on, briefcase or purse so you do not have to any digging. That looks silly. You can also swap digital information. “Print business cards still have their place. However, why not also take advantage of the digital-age variety? You send them a digital business card via text,” writes Kalin Kassabov in Forbes. “There are a few advantages to this approach. The people who receive your digital calling card will have your number and other information right on their device. You’ll also have their mobile number. This is a simple but effective way to stay connected with people you meet at business events or during the course of everyday life.”
Be aware of what is happening around you. Notice what book someone is reading or what newspaper they are looking at, or perhaps a manual in your field. If someone is wearing the logo of a company you recognize, say something. “It is your job to recognize—and capitalize—on an opportunity. This could be at a friend’s dinner party or a professional convention, but the end goal is the same,” writes Jessica Stewart in “You never know where you’ll meet someone who can change your career, so it’s important to be alert at all times. While it doesn’t mean you need to be passing around business cards to everyone at your sister’s bridal shower, you can certainly chat about your work and if there’s synergy, be sure to get contact info so you can connect in an appropriate setting. Remember, you are the biggest champion of your work, so it’s up to you to ensure that your name is out there.”
This isn’t social, this is business. Make sure you are not sending the wrong signals. You are not flirting or digging for personal info, you are looking to make a networking connection with other professionals. If you feel it may be misinterpreted, be sure you bring it back to, “I always make great work connections when I travel.”
“At its worst, networking can seem like idle small talk, disingenuous schmoozing, and a vehicle for self-gain. But done intentionally and authentically, networking can lead to long-term collaborations and partnerships and even help organizations share resources and break down silos,” writes Terra Dankowski in American Libraries.
But at its best, you may create new collaborations for your work, plant seeds for the future and pass the time pleasantly while your flight is delayed or you are waiting for the keynote to begin at a conference.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com