It’s Just Lunch

business-lunch-close-up_pan_17147We all know the importance of networking, but too often we ignore the opportunities that are right in front of us or completely bumble it with mistakes. In the last four months alone, I’ve been to more networking events than I can even count. As public relations professionals or marketers, it’s important that we get out of our offices and meet as many other people as possible. Who knows where it could lead?

One of my favorite ways to network is at a luncheon. Typically held at hotels, high end restaurants and country clubs, these meetings usually have good food, impeccable service, and offer a good way to build relationships and learn something valuable from the keynote speaker during your lunch hour. I’m lucky in that my boss is a big believer in networking so it usually costs me nothing, not even tip. Free lunch, new people, posh environments, and professional development – what’s not to love?

But to the uninitiated, there are certain codes and unspoken rules to follow if you want to make that connection and build relationships. Here are 10 simple rules to follow to make your next luncheon a success:

  1.  Put down the phone. You are here to network and you can’t do that if you are playing Candy Crush, trolling Facebook or checking email. When you walk in, your phone should be put away and on silent (not vibrate). Your job is to meet people so say something. If appropriate, you can pull it out later to live tweet the keynote presentation (another way to meet people in the room at other tables).
  2. Don’t be a wallflower. If everyone is already engaged in conversation, here is what you do. Mill around listening for an interesting conversation. Then, mosey your way up to one that sounds interesting. Listen first and as you step closer and closer until you are making eye contact with the participants. This lets them see that you are joining them without interrupting. Wait for a pause and say something relevant. Boom! You are in and shaking hands with at least three people!
  3. Sit with people you don’t know. Mingle, talk, and keep your eye out for a lively group to sit with. Don’t sit with the people who rushed to pick out seats first and have been looking lonely ever since, and don’t be that person either. Don’t sit with people you came with or people you know too well UNLESS they are sitting at a table full of people you want to be introduced to. Sitting with people from your department or at a table full of people you already know means you miss out on new people. You can, however, sit with someone that you’ve met once or twice before and use this as a chance to get to know them better.
  4. Listen. Don’t dominate the conversation and don’t make sales pitches. This isn’t about you and what you have to offer; it’s about making connections and building relationships. Listen to what they say. They may have something that you need or vice versa and that’s an opportunity to build a mutually beneficial relationship down the road that could lead to something important.
  5. Be likeable. Be friendly but not too personal. Nobody needs to hear about your divorce or your grandma’s hip surgery. Be funny but not offensive. Save your raunchy jokes for your friends. Don’t talk politics or religion. Voicing your opinions about the president or something controversial is a sure fire way to piss off at least half the table. Don’t badmouth anyone or any company because you never know who knows who. Be polite, gracious, and somewhat reserved. Need I say more?
  6. Mind your manners. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with food in your mouth. Say please and thank you. Start with the outside fork and work your way in. Don’t be a glutton or ask for seconds. And don’t complain about the food, service, location or presentation. Your mama raised you right – act like it!
  7. Always have business cards, but... wait and see how everyone else handles them. I’ve been to some luncheons where nobody handed out business cards at all, which seems like a waste to me. Other luncheons provide a contact list for everyone in attendance. Just don’t whip them out right away or give them to every single person you meet or you look too desperate. Wait until after you’ve talked to someone and then decide whether to offer one or not. If someone offers you one, take it and offer one in return. Keep a pen handy and jot a quick note on the back to remind yourself who that person is and how you met them. If it’s someone you want to follow up with, make another mark or fold the corner as a reminder.
  8. Connect on social media. Go to LinkedIn first. This is where you should be building your professional network. When you send the connection message, make it personal. Follow them on Twitter or add them to a Twitter list and engage with them. Do not add them to Facebook. These people are not your friends and your political, religious, or funny posts may be offensive to them – not a good way to start. Besides, do you really want them seeing those Spring Break or bachelor party pictures you keep “forgetting” to take down?
  9. Follow up. Send an email or call them on the phone. Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them and say something personal so they know you aren’t spamming them. Offer to have lunch or coffee, ask for a specific date range (next week) and be specific about why you want to meet. “Your in-house photography studio sounds really amazing and we are considering a photo shoot soon. How about lunch next week and a tour?” or “You mentioned you needed some help with social media. Why don’t we meet for coffee on Thursday and talk about it more?” This gives a clear agenda and allows the other person to choose a time or place without the full burden of making plans.
  10. Add connections to your database. You should be keeping a database of connections that you can add to your mailing list or newsletter list. Add them to it with the option to opt out. This can help build your network and keep you fresh in their mind.

Most importantly – get back out there! Try to go to one luncheon per month and see how much that expands your network. It’s not that hard. With a little courage, a few business cards, some table manners and professional etiquette, you are well on your way to building a wide network of connections. Remember that in public relations it’s not about who you know; it’s who knows YOU.

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