Networking at 30,000 Feet
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Blog
Networking doesn’t only happen at formal networking events. The opportunity to network is all around you; it’s up to you to be ready for it. One of my favorite places to network is on the airplane. I enjoy it because not only do I get to travel to new, exciting places, but I get to meet new, exciting people I may not have an opportunity to meet otherwise. It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve gotten more business from the people who sit next to me on flights than any other source.
If you’re going to travel, you need to approach travel like an attraction, not an obligation. You need to be ready to meet new people and believe you’ll have great conversations on the flight. You need to know that this flight is not just taking you to where you need to be, but taking you on a journey toward a potential new relationship.
One particular trip takes me to Bali, Indonesia and Sydney, Australia. Because my husband and I have different airline allegiances, I sometimes find myself meeting him at our destination, as is the case on this trip. When you travel alone, the opportunity to meet really interesting people can be so much greater than when traveling with friends or family. Do you have any idea how many people you can meet on any given trip? Let me give you a little glimpse.
The first person I meet is at the United Club Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport. We are both headed to the coffee machine. But this is no ordinary coffee machine. This one looks like you need a Masters of Barista Science from Starbucks University in order to figure out how to work it. As we are discussing whether either of us has such training (the answer is a resounding no), we take the opportunity to find out what each other does. He works for the President. Yes, the President of the United States. How cool is that? You can be sure I get his card.
Then, on my flight, I meet a woman who lives in Australia and has been to Bali many times. She gives me all kinds of great ideas about places to go and things to do. Plus, she has the inside scoop on our seats, which, according to her, are too close to the cockpit and very noisy. We have the option to move to some other seats and she volunteers us. I am lucky to have met her.
On the train from the airport into central Sydney, I meet a woman who works for the Tourist Board of New South Wales who is nice enough to courier over some great tourist information to our hotel.
In Bali, we take the Banyan Bike Tour of the rice paddies, a must-do if you’re ever in Bali. We meet a photographer based in Australia (who could use the NSW Tourist Board contact?) and his wife, who works for a charity based in Colorado near where we live. Then we meet some other people who are moving to Portland, one who is going to work for a big advertising agency that works with Nike. I am planning to be in Portland a few months, and it will be good to reconnect.
On the way home, I sit next to a really interesting man who runs global risk for a major bank. The conversation is fascinating. Both his birthday and anniversary are coming up, giving me a good reason to follow up with him. Plus, I met someone a couple months earlier who might be a good connection for him.
While waiting for our bags at the pre-customs baggage claim, I meet someone who works for the company that makes Happy Meal toys for McDonald’s. He’s from Australia, but based in Chicago. In the customs line, it turns out the person behind me runs a number of businesses throughout the world, but also used to run a CEO network in Australia and New Zealand. Might be a good person to know.
Finally, on my flight back to Denver, I sit next to someone who manages a coal mine. This is really interesting because a couple weeks ago I met some executives from a mining services company, so I have a little more frame of reference for his business. In fact, he should meet the folks from the mining services company. I’ll set that up.
I probably could meet a few more people in the gate area, but my connection from Los Angeles to Denver is really tight and I make it to the gate just in time for boarding.
The point here is that there’s opportunity to meet all kinds of people in all kinds of places. You never know who you’re going to be standing in front of or behind, seated next to, or hanging out with in the same general area. By the way, while it may seem like it, I’m really not standing around introducing myself to everyone I see. When people are waiting, they’re passing time. They’re open to the right person striking up a conversation. You have to be that right person. Remember, don’t wait for the conversation. Create the conversation. Be on the lookout for an opening. Have a friendly face on. You can’t be talking on your phone, emailing someone, or listening to music. You have to be in the moment, completely aware of your surroundings and the opportunities they present. Trust me, these opportunities will present themselves to you time and time again. It’s time to start paying attention.