As a CEO of a consumer tech company and a pretty social person, I attend a lot of events and meet a ton of people. I enjoy making new friends and connections this way and often learn something to help my business grow or function more efficiently.
But do you know what I really dislike? Business cards.
Fairly often when I get into a conversation with someone new at a business event, often before we’ve even established a connection, they thrust their business card at me. I’m never sure what I’m supposed to do with these little scraps of cardstock. I find it awkward to hold them and it distracts from the conversation to admire or read their business card on the spot. I’d rather they just tell me about themselves.
I find those business cards floating everywhere—the drink holders in my car, the bottom of my purse, my kitchen counter, my desk. Usually they wind up in the recycling bin when I realize that if I haven’t followed up by now I’m unlikely to ever do so.
The reality is that I’m never going to follow up with the majority of people I meet at events. This is especially true if they foist their business card on me before I’ve asked for their contact information because I find that it shows a lack of social awareness.
One time I really upset a woman I met at an event because when she pushed it on me, I told her I didn’t want her business card because I didn’t plan to follow up. Our businesses had nothing to do with each other and I hadn’t felt like she was someone I wanted to get together with personally (which I didn’t express explicitly). I told her that generally I thought it made sense to wait to give someone a business card until they asked for it so they could follow up (okay I might have been feeling a little cranky).
This didn’t go over well. Now I usually just take the dang cards and drop them in the nearest wastebasket, or I let them plague me until I throw them away.
Lots of people ask for my business cards, too, and I oblige. I had about 1,000 of them designed and printed about 10 years ago and am still working my way through that stash. They’re a little outdated—they don’t have my social media contacts or the address of my personal blog, but I hesitate to order new ones.
Here’s the sad truth. Do you know the percentage of people who ask for my business card and then never follow up? I’d say it’s at least 95 percent.
So why do we bother going through this useless ritual, creating more clutter for each other when we could be spending that time actually making a connection, learning more about each other, and making a commitment to follow up with the people we actually want to get to know or forge a business connection with?
Here’s what I do (and recommending doing) instead:
- Carefully choose events where you feel like there is a legitimate business or personal reason to attend.
- Commit to making two or three real connections with people at events. When I meet people I ask them lots of questions and make a determination within a few minutes if it makes sense to learn more or whether we should make our excuses and keep mingling.
- When you meet someone with whom you would like to continue the conversation, ask for their business card then follow up with them within 24 hours. It’s tempting to procrastinate, but I know that if I don’t follow up quickly, it’s very likely never going to happen.
With this approach I feel I am able to make more meaningful connections for myself and my business. I have met people who have become lasting business partners and friends and have helped my business grow or helped me to grow as a person.