Recently, I served as an invited speaker at four very different national conferences. Speaking is the holy grail of networking, which is great because I consider myself a power networker. You can find me weaving in and out of a crowd looking for people in the room to chat with and exchange business cards. Although I speak at many different industry events, I am finding they have one thing in common: attendees without business cards.
Business Cards Still Hold Weight
Today, social media allows us to connect quite well to people we don’t know or recently met in a virtual way, which has its perks. However, when it comes to an in-person encounter, the business card has been the glue that has kept people connected for hundreds of years. Offering your card to someone is a personal gesture of letting the other person know that you want to stay in contact.
From a person’s business card I remember their industry, branding, our conversation, and their appearance. Granted, I am a bit of a business card savant, but this helps me establish a rapport while networking. I often run into someone and forget their name, but recall their business based on the picture of their business card in my mind. Notably, most people appreciate me remembering their business over their name. For me, exchanging business cards with someone is a bridge to making a true connection over time.
The No Business Card Conundrum
For business card die-hards, including myself, we wouldn’t think to go anywhere without one. I keep them in my purse, business tote, carry-on luggage, and I have a stash in my car. When I meet someone, “the exchange” closes the loop on our encounter. If I hand over my card and fail to receive one in return I feel I haven’t made a solid connection yet.
Recently, I was honored to be among the esteemed speakers at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in Philadelphia. In the speakers’ lounge, I struck up a conversation with a fellow speaker. I offered her the opportunity to be a guest on my podcast and handed her my card, but I didn’t get one back.
I asked for her card she said, “Oh I don’t carry business cards anymore, I invite people on LinkedIn.” While imagining her in dark corners of networking events sending invites on her phone I didn’t hesitate to challenge her, “So, I am here in front of you we can connect right now, but you are choosing to go through a third party to connect at a later time?” She explained that “everybody is on LinkedIn” (by the way, this is not entirely true) so she contacts people via the platform.
The business consultant in me dug deeper, “So what if LinkedIn, a site you do not control, goes under or loses your data, you will have nothing to refer back to right?” She responded with slight regret, “Well, yeah.” I politely asked for my card back. She proceeded to scribble my name on something and worse asked me to share my LinkedIn profile info (which I guessed as it is not on my card—for better or worse.) By the end of the day, I still hadn’t received her LinkedIn invite.
A Business Card Establishes a Connection
I asked for my card back because it seemed she wasn’t really interested in networking with me beyond that moment. Don’t get me wrong, LinkedIn is an amazing business tool. However, networking is about building a personal rapport and business cards are often used as a reminder for follow-up. The business card is one of the few remaining analog methods to connect with sustained relevance in the 21st century.
Consider how you feel when you exchange cards with a high-level executive who is giving you direct access to reach out to them in the future. Approximately 15 years ago, I met Howard J. Rubenstein founder of renowned public relations firm, Rubenstein in New York City. He started his firm on his mother’s kitchen table and went on to represent high-profile politicians, Fortune 100 corporations, and Hollywood icons. When he handed me his card, I was honored. Today, I still have that card as a reminder of that moment.
Four Reasons to Continue to Exchange Business Cards
Don’t let social media get in the way of powerful in-person encounters; continue to carry business cards for these reasons:
- When you don’t hand a card over after taking one, you likely will leave the other person with a feeling of disconnect. The “exchange” closes a mutual loop on your connection
- Newsflash: Some people actually network to meet people for future collaboration and won’t want to leave without your info for follow-up. Your business card prevents them from awkwardly fumbling for paper, pen, or typing a note in their phone
- It’s a person-to-person, immediate physical record of your encounter unlike an invite to connect online which may go unnoticed for a while delaying any sales goals with the person
- You won’t come off as an uninterested jerk—period
In case you are wondering, eventually, the woman from the conference sent me a LinkedIn invite. It was about 30 days after we met. I ignored it. Don’t let that happen to you.