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How to Make the Most of Your Networking Lunch

How to Make the Most of Your Networking Lunch

by Betty Liu

Networking is a necessary–if sometimes, exhausting–part of doing business. For being so critical, it’s amazing how confusing and enigmatic it can be. Some people are just simply better at it than others. Others just have to learn the ways of networking, but not without lots of trial and error.

One of the easiest ways to network is in a one-on-one lunch. For 60 to 90 minutes, you have each other’s undivided attention. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to pitch a new investor or a job seeker looking to impress a possible boss, there are ways you can pack as much impact as possible into that short amount of time.

Make the meeting work for you, so that by the end the person is not only leaving with a full stomach–but a genuine desire to get in touch again.

Here’s how:

1. Show up on time and confirm beforehand. Seems pretty basic, but I’ve experienced moments when poor communication has left either me or my lunch companion sitting at a table alone because he or she failed to confirm beforehand. Always find time the day before to confirm the time and place of the lunch so that you’re both on the same page. And always arrive a few minutes early–being late is the easiest way to give someone a piece of information that can be used to initially judge you.

2. Be well read. I get it. You’re extremely busy building your business. You’re working 24/7 at your job. There’s really no excuse, though, not to be read up on major world news events. Remember that whoever you’re trying to impress will have a lot of other interests besides his or her own business–being able to show you’re current on politics, sports, entertainment, whatever it may be, will enhance your conversational abilities, not to mention make you a more interesting person. I haven’t spoken to one single successful person who isn’t a voracious reader of newspapers and news sites.

3. Try to find a personal connection. Robert Wolf, a former Wall Street banker and one of President Obama’s close friends, is a master networker. There likely isn’t anyone he can’t get to with his vast Rolodex, which is why presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is now relying on Wolf as a financial adviser. Wolf says he makes it a special point to remember personal details of people he’s just met, which helps in fostering a connection outside of business. “I’m always putting notes in my contacts,” he said in my podcast, Radiate. “If I’m having lunch or dinner with someone, and they tell me that their daughter is going to Penn, I like to remember those things. Those things are important.” (You can get more networking tips from Wolf by listening to the show on iTunes or on my website.)

4. Take the other person’s lead on ordering. There’s usually an alpha at the table who sets the tone, even if he or she is being extremely deferential, saying things like “Please go ahead” when the waiter or waitress comes. Make sure you figure out what the alpha wants to do so you don’t go and order the three-course meal when he or she needs to run in 60 minutes. Or order wine when the other abstains. There’s a certain etiquette when dining with someone new. Again, don’t trip up on small things that allow people to make judgments. (“Well, he sure likes those three-martini lunches.”)

5. Know how to graciously end a meal. Nobody likes to look at his or her watch or phone during a meal, but at some point, you know you have to go. The problem is, often people wait until the very end of a meal to leap into the one thing they’ve wanted to talk about. The best way to effectively end a lunch date is to say to your lunch partner, “What time is your next appointment?” This gives that person an excuse to check the time and say when he or she has to leave so that you know when you’ll need to wrap up. Lingering on and on in a conversation is excruciating, while ending abruptly without delivering the goods is a total waste of time. So once coffee is served, ask the key question and then execute on the out.

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