» Meal Companion Networking: Who, How & Why

The following post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Andy Ebon. Andy is the Founder of Wedding University and The Wedding Marketing Blog, and is an International Public Speaker, Writer and Consultant based in Las Vegas. Andy travels across North America and beyond, presenting to Associations, Wedding Industry Conferences, Regional Gatherings, and Local Meetings.

The art of face-to-face networking is not a random event; it requires time and dedication to get the most out of the events or groups you attend. If you are a member of an association or networking group that features a seated meal at meetings, there are a number of unique strategies to help you build a one-to-one relationship over a meal.

meal-companion-networking-tipsThere are several options on choosing your meal companion; each with different rationale.

  1. Sit with random people you don’t know.
  2. Sit with friends and/or people you do know.
  3. Choose to sit with one or two people you would like to know more about, and perhaps do business with.
  4. Sit down at an empty table, letting random friends, peers or strangers join you.

All of the options are completely acceptable, but I recommend choosing option three. The most effective way to expand your professional circle is to invite one or two specific people to sit with you and engage with them.

Who: Selecting which members to get to know

An ideal strategy for planning to build a new connection is to find out in advance which people have RSVP’d for the event. Even if an RSVP list is not available to you in advance, be the first one to arrive and review meeting badges on the registration table.

Prior to the meeting, select four to five people who you would like to get to know. Think about why those people may be important as part of your circle of business contacts. Connect with them during cocktails, chat a bit, and ask one or two of them to join you for the meal. If not already committed, one of them will likely accept your invitation.

How: Learning more about other members

With the popularity of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms, bios or profiles are usually published for members of each platform. Most often, people do elect to make their profile ‘public’, with minor or no limitations on access. Therefore, no one should be shocked if another businessperson reads a profile to learn a little bit more about them.

LinkedIn profiles are among the most detailed. The specifics of education, continuing education, job resume, association participation, community service, extra-curricular activity and special interests provide a wide variety of background of information about potential business contacts.

Facebook profiles tend to be mostly personal in nature. However, there still is crossover from business activities to personal Facebook pages, often in the form of posting photos and updates from both private and public events.

Whether LinkedIn, Facebook or any other social network, remember people are looking at your profile, too. Put reminders on your calendar system to update profiles. Stale information is a negative indicator.

Why: Building a foundation for a solid relationship

The advantage of selecting a meal companion within your networking group or association is that it allows you to make mealtime discussion be the icebreaker to schedule a business coffee, breakfast or lunch to talk ‘shop’. While networking groups function to establish these relationships with other professionals, a great deal of time is devoted to the social aspects of the group setting and the small talk that leads up to a business discussion. Selecting the right companion ahead of time helps you to spend your time with the right people.

Use the time and opportunity to ask questions and learn about your meal companion. Find out about their challenges and how you, as a fellow wedding professional, can be of service to them, directly or indirectly.

The important elements of the conversation are:

  • Listen
  • Ask good questions
  • Don’t jump to provide solutions until you’re asked
  • Ask permission to schedule the subsequent meeting

The Road to Relationships

Being genuinely interested in the path to success of others is a bonding mechanism of great importance. If you perform appropriate follow-up communication, there is a high likelihood of building both a friendship and business relationship.

Be consistent in making new connections at every meal-based function, do your utmost to grow the relationship and make yourself memorable. Then watch your referrals expand, organically, from long-term relationships.