I spoke at an event recently before a group of about 100 young people. The group was very engaged. They had assembled to learn from a range of successful professional women, and they were poised to consume all the information being served. Many of the students asked questions afterward.
As I was leaving, a young woman rushed up to me as I was speaking with someone else. Rather than wait a moment until I finished talking, she reached her hand out to mine and stuffed a crumpled business card in it. And in a flash she was off, before I could say a word.
That awkward moment reminded me of a similar scene a few years ago. At that time, a grown man — a professional with his own company — walked up to me and slipped his business card in my pocket and then hurried off. I happened to see him a few minutes later, and I asked him why he had made the decision to do that. He said he didn’t want to disturb me.
In case anybody else is under the false belief that it’s a good idea to covertly network such that your networking partner isn’t an active participant, think again.
A business card is just another scrap piece of paper destined for the trash can before the evening is over unless you do your best in the moment to bring it to life. Indeed, networking is far more than handing out business cards. There is an art to establishing a connection with other people and broadening your network of professional or social contacts.
Several of the best pieces of networking advice I’ve ever received came from Earl G. Graves, the founder of Black Enterprise magazine. I worked with him when I first launched my business, about 15 years ago. He is an early riser and strongly encouraged me to get up early, go to work early and be ready for whatever opportunity the day held for me — before the sun came up. That was tough for me, having always been a night owl. I often find my creative stride well after the city is quietly sleeping.