A first-class upgrade is a golden ticket to network with some high-powered players. Sadly, most people squander the opportunity and view the complementary upgrade as access to free booze. Instead of networking with leaders of Fortune 500 companies and millionaire entrepreneurs who often fill in the seats of first-class cabins, they try to see how many mini-bottles of Dewar’s they can down in a two-hour flight.
The $25 bar tab is definitely not worth missing the opportunity to advance your career and land a potential new client. I’ve scored countless job interviews and client appointments by networking with those seated around me in first class.
Here are some tips to help you turn that first-class ticket into a golden opportunity.
Don’t Over Booze It
It’s okay to take advantage of the free hospitality and enjoy a cocktail or two but don’t over do it while you’re trying to network. A seatmate who starts slurring his or her speech midway through a three-hour flight impresses nobody. It is never okay to order a cocktail in the morning or during working hours.
Politely Introduce Yourself
Don’t be bashful and wait for your seatmate to make the first move. Once the two of you are situated, and before they are engrossed in something else, extend your hand and introduce yourself. If they’re reading or working on their laptop, don’t interrupt them. Wait for an opportunity later. I find it best to introduce myself during the inflight beverage service or during the meal if one is served.
Listen More Than You Talk
Networking is often more about getting to know the other person than it is about them getting to know you. Sure, you want to let out who you are and what you do, but don’t become a Chatty Cathy. However, if they want to become one, let them. People love to talk about themselves, so indulge them. Later, they’ll remember you as someone who was professional and a great listener.
Don’t Get All Fan-Girl or Boy
If the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is sitting next to you, try to keep your composure. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that they’re a regular person just like you (albeit a little higher on their journey up the corporate ladder). Don’t immediately start shouting everything you love about their company, trip over your words or go in for the kill and immediately ask for a job interview. Instead, remember the previous tip and listen more than you talk.
Ask for a Business Card to Keep the Conversation Going
Remember the old adage, “Opportunity doesn’t find you. You have to find opportunity.” If you’ve had a great conversation with your seatmate, whether you think the two of you can do business together or not, ask for their business card. Use this simple line while handing them your business card: “I’d love to keep the conversation going. Can I have one of your business cards?”
Send a Follow-Up Email Within 24 Hours
This is something you’ll want to do regardless of whether or not they requested your resume or more information on the product you represent, as you never know when you might need to call on them in the future. In the follow-up email, state what a pleasure it was meeting them, recall something from the conversation like CEO Jr.’s science project, and then include your resume or product information (if you discussed this).
If the business leader next to you isn’t interested in talking, please respect their boundaries and allow them to work, read, sleep, listen to music, etc. For some, those four hours in flight are the only time when they can truly disconnect from their smart phones and read a book. Allow them that time and order another drink. You’ll have an opportunity to network on the next flight.