If you think business lunches are a relic of the 80’s, you’re missing out on a valuable business tool. In a previous article we discussed preparing for a networking function. Now let’s review tips for networking at a business lunch.
Don’t be afraid to say hello to a stranger – that is, after all, why you are there! It is also likely that the person you meet is just as nervous as you are! If you see someone standing alone looking like a nervous first-timer make the effort to draw them into your conversation and they will be thankful for the helping hand.
At sit-down business lunches with open seating, try to sit with people you haven’t met before and invite the person you met in the foyer to join you if he or she is alone. Try to get the whole table involved in a discussion rather than just the person next to you.
Robyn Henderson, a master networker, says to “act like the host” and invite those at the table to introduce themselves in turn. You could begin by asking everyone what brought them to the business lunch. This is a great way to learn more about the motivation of each guest at your table and what they hope to achieve by attending. Take it a step further by asking what each person does. I guarantee there will be some form of synergy around the table between at least two of the guests. There really is just six degrees of separation!
Look before you lunch
Evaluate the opportunities for networking around you. Look at industry associations, business networking groups, special interest groups and so on. Also look at networking groups that your typical client may belong to. The web is a great place to begin your search and the phone book also lists industry associations and networks.
Choose networks that fit with your interests and area of business. Create a short list of networks that you can attend regularly and that realistically fit into your monthly calendar. If your time is limited it is preferable to attend one network regularly, rather than try to spread yourself over a few networks every so often.
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Remember that networking is not only about meeting people. By attending business lunches with guest speakers you’ll get a regular motivational injection and learn something too. A ticket to a networking events makes a cost-effective and unusual thank you gift for a client.
Follow up sooner rather than later
Use the afternoon to complete your follow up activity for guests you met at the business lunch. Maybe even carry on for a coffee after the lunch with a few new contacts. Guests leaving the function will go straight back to their daily activities and the normality of life and, unless you establish the connection, your foundation on which to build a relationship will be very weak. Take the time to nurture your new contacts and who knows where they may lead.
The key to success at any networking event is in preparing for a networking function. That way you will arrive relaxed and receptive to the new opportunities that await you.