I vividly remember being at a local chamber of commerce event last year when a gentleman approached me from out of nowhere and asked if I had a business card in a somewhat aggressive manner. He was still looking around the room and barely paying attention to me while asking.

I politely responded with, “Hello, I am Annette Harris,” and proceeded to extend my hand for a handshake. He then introduced himself to me.

I reluctantly gave him my card, thinking to myself that I would probably simply end up on some email marketing list. Lucky for me, he never followed up.

I attend a lot of networking events, and although this situation was extreme, it is not isolated. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same, or a similar, situation. You almost feel a little violated. And for those who are not fans of networking, it’s just one more reason to avoid it like the plague.

Networking faux pas, however, aren’t always this blatant. There are other less invasive business card exchange practices that will also make you look like a networking novice – or, as in this gentleman’s case, a networking piranha!

Exchanging business cards should be a cordial, respectful networking custom and not an opportunity to shove your business card onto someone. Here are four simple steps to exchange your business card so that you look like a networking pro with gravitas rather than a novice:

Step 1: Engage in Conversation

Before you even think about asking for or giving a business card, you should always spend at least a few minutes getting to know the person and engaging in small talk. Otherwise, you end up coming across like a shifty used car salesman seeking to simply add someone to their solicitation list rather than a polished, poised professional interested in a strategic, mutually beneficial connection.

You may even determine that the person is not someone you want or need to connect with beyond the meeting or networking event – which is the only reason you’d exchange business cards in the first place. And that’s okay.

Step 2: Invite an Exchange

Once you’ve had a chance to engage in conversation, build rapport, and decide that you would like to stay connected with the person, invite them to exchange business cards. You might say something like:

  • “I would like to stay in contact with you. Let’s exchange business cards.”
  • “I have some people I’d like to introduce you to (or a resource to share that I think you’d find beneficial). Do you have a business card?”
  • “Why don’t we exchange business cards so we can connect with one another on LinkedIn after the event?”

By extending an “invite” for someone to exchange business cards, you make the person feel important and valued while also projecting gravitas.

Step 3: Present Your Business Card

Don’t just hand your business card to someone – present it. And, please, don’t pass them out to multiple people at once like you are a blackjack dealer. Instead, present your business cards one by one to each person.

Ideally, you will pull your business card out of a high-quality, attractive, and professional-looking business card holder that shows you take pride in your cards. If you expect to be taken serious, make sure your business cards are clean and crisp before you attend an event. Your information should be up to date so you don’t have to make a novice move by saying something like, “Oh, that’s actually my old phone number, or email, etc. Let me write my new information on it.” You will also want to bring more than enough to exchange.

Keep in mind that unless you are attending a half-, full- or multi-day conference or event, you shouldn’t need to bring a huge pile of business cards since you’ll only be exchanging them with people you’ve had time to genuinely engage with during the event. If you do bring along a large number, you might be more inclined to try to give as many out as possible.

“The true value of networking doesn’t come from how many people we can meet but rather how many people we can introduce to others” ~Simon Sinek

In China, as a sign of respect, people use two hands to present a business card with their name facing the person receiving it. You’ll stand out and make a great impression using this practice in the U.S. Even if you do not use two hands, at a minimum, present the card to the other person with your name facing them so that they can quickly and easily read it. If you are sitting, be sure to stand to present your card.

Step 4: Accept a Business Card with High Regard

A business card represents the person who is presenting it to you, so don’t haphazardly take it and simply stick it in your pocket, purse, or business card case. Instead, demonstrate high regard for the person by pausing a few moments to first examine the card – taking note of their full name, title, and other details on the business card.

The person you exchange cards with will think highly of you, you will make a strong first impression, and you will very likely be memorable as a result of this small gesture of respect.

Closing the Loop on the Business Card Exchange

It goes without saying that you should follow up with each individual that you exchanged business cards with at a meeting or networking event – the sooner, the better.

You can send a personalized message over email and/or a LinkedIn invitation that indicates where/how you met and a brief anecdote about the interaction. When you connect on LinkedIn, be sure to use the “Add a Note” feature. Otherwise, the person will receive a generic invitation from you instead of a personalized message.