Last week I attended a lunch meeting where people signed in at the door, filled their plates with food at the buffet, then either sat down at tables with people they already knew and probably sat with at the last meeting and the one before that, or found a table where nobody was seated then failed to greet the others who eventually joined them as the room filled and people grabbed a seat wherever they could find it. Even though the people at this meeting shared a common profession and could have easily made polite "shop talk" with their tablemates, few did.
With the exception of the officer who checked me in at the door, nobody knew who I was so it had to be obvious to all of the regulars that I was a first time visitor yet only the President Elect welcomed me.
I happen to know that many of the professionals who attended this meeting paid several hundred dollars in local and national membership fees and then paid $10 for lunch. At $10 per meal, a member who attends every monthly meeting could easily spend, say, $400 a year on meals and membership fees alone. Then there's the drive across town, the parking, the gas, and the rush to get back to the office.
To me, this seems like a lot of time, effort and expense not to meet anybody new, not to get better acquainted with anybody and to return to the office with not so much somebody's business card to show for the money and effort. I don't know about you, but to a guy like me whose livelihood is 100% referral-based, $400 a year is too much money not to make new friends and meet new people.
Yeah, I know, somebody reading this is thinking, "Ah, you must be an extravert, an outgoing, never-met-a-stranger kind of guy." Nope. I'm an off-the-charts introvert. INTP on the Myers-Briggs. So even if the people I watched squander the opportunity to deepen and extend their networks are all introverts, they are without excuse. If a hardcore introvert like me can learn to smile, say my name, extend a handshake and produce a business card, anybody can. "Grip and grin". It's easy. And it leads to good things. Job offers. Consulting gigs. Friendship.
"Maybe the people at your meeting are all misanthropes,” you may say. OK, maybe they are. That would certainly explain their unsociable behavior but, remember, these people are paying a lot of money to this organization for the privilege of being in the same room once a month with these humans they don't like so, if for no other reason than self interest, shouldn't they learn to meet and greet so they can get the most professional networking bang for their buck?
How To Get More From The Meetings You Attend
1. Put a stack of business cards in a pocket where you can easily offer one to everybody you meet.
2. Arrive early if possible so you can mix and mingle and introduce yourself to people.
Introducing yourself is easy. Just do this: Smile. Extend your hand (if you're afraid of H1N1 you can use hand sanitizer later). Say your name. Offer your business card. It's easy. Good things will happen. Like magic, most of the people you meet will mirror your actions. When you say your name, they'll say there's. When you produce a business card, they'll produce theirs. You're showing them how to behave. Do this at every meeting and eventually you will have taught a lot of people how to network at a meeting and, soon, you won't have to be the initiator all the time.
3. If this is a meeting where you're going to see some of the same people you can see elsewhere, resist the urge to hang with people you already know. Be the guy who reaches out to the stranger, the visitor, the person whose body language says they feel awkward.
4. Resist the urge to scan the room for the movers and shakers and network only with them. Get in the habit of saying to you "there are no unimportant people" and get in the habit of treating everybody the same.
5. Once a week, look up all the people who gave you a business card on LinkedIn. Invite them to join your LinkedIn network.
Remember: Always have business cards. Smile. Say your name. Extend your hand. Offer a business card. Repeat.