Whether trying to further your own personal business or promoting and furthering yourself as an employee, the power of networking can be like the face that launched a thousand ships. Most can attest that business travel frequently turns nightmarish between rental car lines, flight delays, red-eyes, and realizing you forgot to pack an essential. However nightmarish it may be, though, business travel provides a perfect portal for networking – business dinners.
Networking business dinners are common place on your own turf, but by failing to take advantage of them on other turfs, you’re missing a lot of connection and re-connection opportunities. Everyone has to eat. So why not capitalize on it?
It may sound like a chore to organize when you’re in cities that you know little to nothing about, but it really doesn’t take a lot of effort or time to schedule a fantastic business networking dinner. Here’s how I do it in five steps:
Step One: Determine How Many Guests You’ll Invite
Determine how many guests you’d like to have and start creating the list from contacts in the area. In picking this number, determine what exactly you’d like to happen during the dinner. For example, if your goal is to maintain a single group conversation, then any more than six guests typically results in splintered, side conversations within the group.
Aim ahead for cancels and additions. If you would ideally like six guests, then invite eight to ten. Also reserve a seat for an additional guest you might come across during the purpose for your business trip.
Step Two: Create The Ideal Guest List From Your Contacts, Contacts Of Contacts, And/Or Desirable Contacts
Your contacts can move around a lot, making it hard to keep track of who’s living where for certain. LinkedIn is an excellent tool to track down professional contacts; simply run an advanced search by locations see everyone in a particular city. It will also ensure you have the most current contact info. LinkedIn has a message system you can use for the invites, too.
Perhaps, you don’t have a huge guest list from your own contacts in a given city? No problem. Ask the contacts you do have, whether personal or business, to reach out to their own industry contacts or friends in adjacent fields.
Expand your contacts. If there’s someone you’d like to know in a city, then reach out and send them an invite.
Don’t forget to allow that extra open-ended guest spot when preplanning your dinner. You never know when the opportunity may arise during your business trip to invite a contact just being made.
Step Three: Pick Your Venue
The venue is perhaps what takes the most thought and research for a business networking dinner out of your own home base, but it’s worth the due diligence to find that perfect spot for your dinner’s guests and purpose.
Location should be central to keep it convenient for all guests. Atmosphere should be upbeat, but still quiet enough for guests not to need to shout their conversations. Consider food restrictions and varying tastes as they relate to the restaurant’s menu selections. Aim for variety, not specialty. Make sure the price point can accommodate guests not wanting to spend more than $15 for an entree and also has options for big eaters and spenders.
Yelp, Google Places, Facebook Places, OpenTable reviews, recommendations from personal local friends, and even calling up a local hotel’s concierge can all help you with the research.
Once you find a restaurant that fits the bill, make the reservation.
Step Four: Deliver Your Invites To The Guest List
You can use LinkedIn, send direct emails, or make a quick phone call for the initial invites and feelers. Two to three weeks prior to the dinner date is usually a good target for the initial invites. Any earlier and it may go forgotten. Any later and their schedule could be full.
Send an official calendar invite to all guests. Let’s face it, most of us live and die by our calendars so sending a calendar invite with the restaurant’s address and phone number, your contact info, and dinner date and time is the best way to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Step Five: Send Out Confirmation Emails
These will go out a couple days before the networking business dinner just as a reminder and to confirm everyone can still attend. It’s typical for at least one guest to inform you they’re unable to attend in the confirmation emails.
Five steps and you have the perfect business networking dinner planned and ready to go. Don’t forget that you’re the host. Have in mind how you want guests seated. You’ll be responsible for introductions and getting conversations started, too. An ice breaker can be to ask each guest to share a professional and/or personal experience.
In closing, business advancement is all about the connections you make, and those connections aren’t limited to just your home base. So, seize these golden opportunities that business trips create to network and develop or strengthen your connections through business dinners.