If you are like a lot of road warriors you spend a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. But you can turn high-flying travel time into a goldmine for meeting new people and making valuable additions to your professional network. Here’s how:
When you first to board the plane take this opportunity to set a friendly tone with the passengers seated around you. Say hello to your neighbors as soon as they “move in.” This is an easy way to break the ice and establish how receptive they may be to conversation. If your seatmate cracks open a book or pulls out some work, be patient. Chances are, you’ll have an opportunity to chat later on in the flight.
If you get the green light to gab from the person, open the conversation with small talk. I often ask, “What takes you to …?” If I get a positive response I pursue it further.
For example, on a recent flight I said “Hello” to the passenger seated next to me and added, “I’m happy to be heading home! Which way are you going—home or away?” Her smile and friendly response, “I’m traveling for business,” was all I needed to continue the conversation. “What kind of business are you in?” I asked. She said, “Selling stuff but my real passion is mentoring girls and young women for scholarship pageants.” After I learned that the contestants have to make short speeches I said, “I’m a professional speaker. Maybe I can help your contestants.”
Through the course of our conversation, born from a simple “Hello,” we each made a business contact and expanded our professional network.
Here are some more tips for Networking at 30,000 feet:
- Say “Hello” to your seatmates right away.
- Show an interest in where they are going and who they are.
- Keep your conversation light—don’t try to push a business-related conversation until you know that he or she shares your business interests.
- Be patient and respectful if your seatmate appears busy or not interested in chatting.
- If you do share a business interest, introduce yourself and offer to exchange business cards.
- Keep your voices low. It never hurts to be even more courteous than usual—extra manners go a long way in tight spaces!
- Follow-up within a week via email, telephone or social media.
You never know who you are seated next to on an airplane until you start a conversation. Of course, every situation is unique and judgment plays a large role when you network at 30,000 feet. Some passengers plan certain tasks to do while they are in the air, and it would be rude to disturb them. But if you’re looking to network with other professionals there are few other places with a more diverse collection of business people than on an airplane...all waiting for you to say “Hello”!
Do you have a “networking at 30,000 feet” success story you’d like to share? If so, please use the comment box. If it’s good I might use it in my next book (and give you the credit!)