CEO etiquette at networking events

Ernest Egyir Foundation awards scholarships to university students
Ernest De-Graft Egyir, Founder of Ernest Egyir Foundation

Successful and topmost CEOs know that their success depends, in part, on meeting new people who bring value. One of the great ways for CEOs to enhance their network is to spend the hours after work in the company of other leaders who seek to use recreation as a means to achieve personal fulfilment and improve their effectiveness.

Participating in business cocktails and networking events provides opportunities for meeting new people and reinforcing existing relationships in the corporate world. As great as these events are, they could be the most valueless unless the participant knows how to get the best out of the event.

Although attending a networking event outside formal work hours could be fun, it does not mean that one should cast off the spectacles of work. A top-level business leader is constantly working, even in a networking or cocktail event.

To maximize the benefits of participating in a networking session, there are guidelines and etiquette that should be followed.

  1. Plan for success before the event: Match your dress code to the pedigree or culture of the venue. You may not want to be over-dressed for an event where many of the participants are likely to be less formally dressed. Certainly, you don’t want to perceived as the worst dressed individual at the event.

Additionally, ensure you stock up your business cards and have them ready to be easily handed out at the event. Further, it helps if you don’t go on an empty stomach. If you go for such an event not famished, you are likely to be focused on your business goals and spend more time establishing valuable relationships than eating.

  1. When you go, make a good impression: Don’t be late. Consciously observe and assess the space, take note of where everything is set up as well as how people position themselves and move around. Eat with cutlery or toothpick to ensure that your hands are kept clean for handshakes or fist bumps when interacting with others. At the bar, keep your drinks in your left hand so your right hand is free to engage.
  2. Connect with the right CEOs: There will be many CEOs present and the reality is that you may not be able to interact with each one of them. There is also the likelihood that you may engage CEOs you who may not be the ideal people you need at the time. Be purposeful about those you engage with. Set an agenda to connect with those who inspire and motivate you, share similar values and know your industry.
  3. Increase your visibility: While you are looking for others to connect with, you must also position yourself for others to seek to connect with you. The question is, “Why would anybody want to connect with you?” Establish yourself as an influencer and an industry thought leader. Publish articles. Write a book. Speak at industry events. Become a mentor. Engage in community development initiatives. When you do so, people will reach out to you more often than you reaching out to them consistently.
  4. Appear friendly and polite: Don’t interrupt people who are engaged in serious conversations. If you need to connect with a group, don’t suddenly jump in; ask, “May I join you?” Introduce yourself confidently, “Hello, my name is Ernest Egyir! I am the founder of the CEO Network, a peer-to-peer networking platform for topmost CEOs.” While at it, maintain eye contact without staring at people.

When you receive a business card, read it thoroughly taking note of vital information such person’s name and how it is spelt, designation and name of company. These details offer vital points for discussion and interaction. Be intentional about giving out your cards and do it in a way that will make the recipient read the information on it.

Acknowledge the people you meet. Let them feel welcome, “Eric, I am pleased to meet you” or “It is a joy to connect with you.”

Also, don’t get star-struck in the presence of accomplished and well-known CEOs. They are people just like you. They have emotions, families, interests and challenges – just like you. Connecting with them at a personal level makes them more interested in you. Be confident, be yourself and let the conversation flow organically.

  1. Don’t be a pest: Don’t be the person who prevents the CEO from doing other important things at the event. Refrain from putting them on the spot; don’t ask too many questions. Keep your initial interactions to mere exchange of pleasantries. Keep the interactions brief and on track because CEOs don’t have much time to spare. Focus on how you can be of value to them.
  2. Don’t be in a hurry to sell: The purpose of the event is to meet people, not to sell. Focus on building an enduring relationship. It is not the time to go on and on about your company or product. Limit yourself to what is asked for in the conversation. If you prioritize the relationship over the transaction, the long-term benefits will be unforgettable.

The key to making great gains at such an event is not to be casual about it (albeit the event may look casual on the surface) but to relate to it in your professional capacity.

About the author

Ernest De-Graft Egyir is a Management Consultant and an Executive Advisor to Topmost CEOs. He is the founder and CEO of the CEO Network and Ghana CEO Summit.  For close to a decade, he has successfully hosted the CEO Network Business Cocktail for Ghana’s topmost business leaders.

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