Do I need a business card?
I was facilitating a conference training event recently and was rather surprised by how few people had business cards, especially more senior academics. 'Why do I need one?' they asked. 'If I want to follow up with someone, then I'll ask for their address!' 'Too corporate for me.' 'Business cards just stop you from having real conversations.' Fair points. Business cards can certainly be used in ways that are very off-putting. I've seen them brandished like some kind of weapon to beat the recipient with (Just look at how senior I am!), gathered feverishly like it's some kind of competition (See how good I am at networking, I've got loads of contacts....and you haven't) and accepted with visible distain (Give me your card if you want, but I still won't respond to your email). And then there's the possibility of causing offence because you've mishandled the card.
When viewed like this it might seem better not to have one. I disagree. I find business cards very useful and the etiquette fairly simple if you think in terms of principles rather than rules. However, this post is not about how to avoid the game-playing, social faux-pas and showing-off (that will be another post), it's about how useful business cards are.
As a means of exchanging contact details they are terribly efficient; clear, legible and correct. Much better than the scribbled note stuffed in your paper dairy, and quicker than typing details into each other's electronic notes whilst balancing your device on top of your tea-cup. Time flies at a conference, and whilst the exchange of details can be a very pleasurable social experience, the exhange of business cards doesn't have to diminish the social experience by being too corporate or competative.
I often make notes on the back of cards. Did I exchange cards or simply accept theirs? Why did I accept the card? What did we talk about? In what way were they different to the other people that I spoke to about the same things? I know lots of people who do this and as time goes by and memory fades, it helps in avoiding sending an email to the wrong person because you've mixed them up in your memory.
I keep all the business cards I receive for quite some time. Initially after a conferene I organise them according to my contact plans. 'Definately', 'Definately not', and 'Who knows what the future holds.' I shuffle through occassionaly as they sit in a pile on my desk for a while, before being relegated into an old business card box (or the shredder; I'm careful about other people's privacy). If they are to be prized and valued they make it into a buisness card holder. Now it's not often that I will contact someone directly having chosen not to contact them immediately after a conference, but occassionally I do. Looking at the business card is much quicker than trying to find them through LinkdIn alone, even if they have moved institution. None of that 'Oh what was their name?! Where did I put that note/scrap of paper/old mobile phone?' A business card looks like a business card, even if you have to fish it from the bottom of a drawer full of post-its, pens, old cables, lip-balm and tissues.
My business card collections are a repository of memories of people and places and looking at them when I'm faced with a new project helps me make intellectual connections between ideas, imagine alternative solutions to strategic problems, reflect on plans and behaviours, and put others in touch, even when I don't want to get involved myself. Yes, business cards have remarkable long-term benefits.
Now, how do you get over all the negatives? I can teach you how to avoid those, or handle them with skill and respect. Check out my other posts.