Business card exchanges and other networking events send a mixed message about appropriate behavior – should you eat the food or be ready to shake hands?
Chambers of commerce frequently host business networking events, as do other business organizations. These events may offer food, beverages, a guest speaker or musical performance, raffles, and other diversions. These amenities may draw larger crowds to the events, but all of them conflict with the art of business networking by rendering one unable to converse or shake hands.
Certain networking activities impede conversation. Networkers cannot engage in active listening to get names right if they are unable to listen. When considering events to attend, weigh the likelihood of each of these conversation stoppers being present:
- Guest speakers cause a room to grow quieter, so hushed tones are necessary. Speaking usually occurs when everyone is seated, limiting the number of networking contacts possible at the event.
- Musical performers may or may not go on before a seated audience. Volume of the music may make conversation difficult.
- Organized activities may enhance or detract from networking. They may range from “business card bingo” games to raffle ticket sales.
- Food fills up mouths that are needed for speaking, among its other problems for networking.
Food: Networking Disrupter
Food, along with beverages, is a very common element at networking events. Mixers vary from seated luncheons to evening tavern parties; food is a popular draw to these business events. Food, however, gets in the way of networking.
- As noted above, food in the mouth prevents conversation.
- Additionally, breath can be affected by food at events. Caterers rarely take this into account.
- Food in hand means one less hand for shaking, or handing out business cards.
- Hands may be left greasy by food, which is a big handshake faux pas.
- Adding in a beverage for the other hand makes networking virtually impossible.
Ready for the Handshake
Shaking hands is an expected part of business networking, and one should attend networking events ready for handshaking. Food and beverages make it difficult to shake hands or distribute business cards. Other hand impediments include:
- Raffle tickets being sold.
- Business cards just received.
- Brochures and larger marketing materials distributed at the event.
- Menus for food at the event.
One must be ready to keep both hands clean and free of obstructions. Business cards and raffle tickets may be quickly pocketed, but larger papers should be tucked into the jacket or purse – bring one for that purpose, if necessary. Networkers should keep in mind that two ears, one mouth, and two hands are needed for networking, and should be prepared to keep all the parts working together to make a good impression.