Whether you realize it or not you have been to a networking lunch.  Food, lunch time, and more than one person are the requirements for a networking lunch.  Having lunch with a prospect or co-worker is a networking lunch by definition.  But for our conversation we will focus on structured, multi-attendee networking luncheons.

Most networking luncheons attract a wide variety of people from all business categories with one common bond; nearly all will be directly or indirectly responsible for sales at the company they represent.  For this reason the networking lunch takes on a different personality than all other networking events.

Networking luncheons vary from structured events with a formal meal and keynote speaker to a loosely tied together group where everyone brings their own “brown-bag” lunch.  What makes networking luncheons different from networking events at other times during the day (aside from the preponderance of sales people in the room) is the compressed time frame.  Most people who attend networking luncheons have scheduled meetings before and after the lunch and therefore have limited time.

Except for the largest groups, most networking luncheons provide an opportunity for the attendees to give their elevator speech or sixty-second commercial.  Few people who attend networking luncheons are shy since there are many sales related professionals in the room.  You should be prepared to deliver a self-introduction for one-on-one interactions and to the audience that is concise and audience-focused.  You have approximately seven seconds to gain the interest of the listener before he or she mentally turns you off.

One of the best things about networking luncheons is that you will easily meet new people if you want to.  Even if you attend with a co-worker, sit with someone you haven’t met.  By the time the lunch is over you will know a lot about your new friend and they will know a lot about you.  This is the beginning of a relationship that will lead to more connections.  You can’t help but get to know people when you share a meal with them.

Since most of the people at networking luncheons are in sales, they will have a vast network of connections and it is highly likely that someone in the room will know the person or people you are trying to meet.  Focus on the people you meet and the ways you can help them.  When asked, clearly state the benefits you can offer others and the connections you are seeking.  You can quickly open doors through the relationships you will forge at networking luncheons.

But heed this one word of caution.  Except formal events, a networking luncheon is a relaxed atmosphere. Since there are so many sales people at networking luncheons, you may mistake their candor as sales pushiness.  While there will be a few pushy sales people to be certain, the vast majority of the group is there to meet new people and grow their network.  Although it does happen, don’t go expecting to sell something to someone that day.  And bring plenty of business cards but don’t hand one out unless asked.   Rarely does anyone follow up with someone from an unsolicited card.

Networking luncheons provide an outstanding opportunity to meet a lot of people and to meet many who know the people you need to know.  Just remember that the networking luncheon is a time-compressed, full contact, networking event. It requires a clear understanding of the attendees and for you to have a concise, audience-focused message.  Be certain to attend, meet new people, and follow-up promptly and you will win big at networking luncheons.