Here’s a typical scenario I’m sure you can all relate to…
You’re at an industry event or a cocktail party and you approach someone you want to speak to (or the reverse). Out flies a business card with zero introduction, zero asking for your name, and zero pre-qualification. You have no way of knowing if the card you’re suddenly about to take hold of is actually appropriate for you to accept or if the person is even someone you should add to your network. Basically, there’s been no preparation of the territory before the Big Exchange.
If you commit sins like this, it’s not right and you know it.
Before reaching into your purse or your pocket for your card, figure out what the nature of the interaction is. Ask the person you’re introducing yourself to their name first. That’s right, square up to them and tell them your name, then politely ask for theirs.
I have a blast during parties when the all-critical “name exchange” stage happens. When I next bump into that person – either five, ten, fifteen minutes or an hour later on the parquet floor – I’ll shout their name across the divide, they’ll turn around, and then, pointing at my torso, I ask them for mine. They’re usually stumped. Lesson transmitted.
Rather than attempt to make them feel bad or to school them, I’m merely pointing out the absurdity of the whole card-exchanging pas a deux.
If you hardly bother finding out who you’re talking to, what’s the point? You’re just clear-cutting forests then and wasting everyone’s time. In some societies – especially in China, Korea, or Japan — this might even be considered the height of rudeness.
Here’s a new way to approach the whole card-exchanging process:
- introduce yourself first and once you learn the other person’s name, repeat it aloud, especially if it’s one you’re not typically used to pronouncing or if it’s not one you’ve heard before. Shake someone’s hand (if that’s their custom or if they permit you to touch them) and look at them dead in the eye and smile as often as you can, genuinely. Once you’re done talking, repeat their name once more, shake their hand for reinforcement and have a final glance at their card, if you’ve taken one. It cements what you’ve just done nicely, and if it’s done right it doesn’t come off seeming artificial.
- don’t accept a card or give one if you don’t think it’s appropriate to do so: not every business interaction merits an exchange of cards. Don’t be embarrassed to say, “I’m sorry, but I might not be the right person to help you, but it was really nice meeting you nevertheless.” If they insist, tell them where to find you online and then move off to your next chat. What I find typically happens is nothing at all…and rather than come off rude, the salience of the whole refusal to simply fork a card over causes you to stand out even more prominently than the conventional case.
- if you’ve promised to do something, then do it: otherwise don’t make any promises and don’t shoot your mouth off. If you attend as many events as I do over the course of a year, you’ll often hear things like: “I definitely call you!” or “I’ll email you tomorrow.” We all know you won’t, can’t, and shouldn’t, so don’t feel bad to utter the unvarnished truth: “It was really nice meeting you.” If you can’t do something , don’t be afraid to tell someone straight away. You look ridiculous when you make idle commitments you can’t keep, and in our business we all need to cut down on the peddling of pure driven bullshit.
- a cute way to endear yourself to your interlocutor is to simply ask “So who are you and what d’ya do?” This is Mitch Joel’s line and it’s a page I’ve pulled out of his playbook and, believe me, it works. It also affords you a chance to see how much preparation someone’s done: do they have their short- and medium-length pitches prepared? Any chops? Do they know how to adequately promote themselves or are they just there for the free drinks and canapés?
- concentrate intently on what the other person’s telling you: for those several beats of conversation, pretend like this is the only conversation you’re ever going to have tonight. It makes a huge difference to what you’ll learn about the other other person and they’ll appreciate you more. Shut everything out for those few moments, like that Kevin Coster scene from For the Love of the Game.
It’s not that cards are expensive or that you’re attempting to make people feel like poop…it’s just that the whole culture of automatic card-giving to complete strangers is silly. It shouldn’t be happening to the level it does.
Before people offer me a card, I’ll keep my hands right at my side and ask: “But you didn’t tell me your name!” whereupon the person suddenly remembers there’s a correct protocol to how all this is supposed to go down and then sheepishly thrusts out their hand in greeting (this should have preceded the entire exercise, but let’s not go there). They’re usually so shell-shocked that they even forget to ask me what’s mine, which is even funnier.
Try my suggestions above at the next party you attend. You’ll not only walk out of there with lighter pockets, less stray paper, but you’ll have remembered a whole lot more names and promoted yourself and your business more effectively in the process.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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