We’re on our phones a lot. We text, email, use apps, take pictures and sometimes even use our phones to call and speak with people. As integral as this device has become to our lives, there’s a time and place to be on it, especially when in professional settings. As our world becomes increasingly digital, opportunities for face-to-face engagement are becoming even more important. If you find yourself choosing a screen over participating in a conversation, you may miss out on potential business, job and professional opportunities.
People often forgo chances to make great in-person connections because they’re too busy on their phones to notice what’s happening around them. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point, but awareness is the key to minimizing this behavior and maximizing opportunities.
Consider the following settings, ripe with potential for generating professional opportunities:
At Networking Events
Many of us feel uncomfortable initiating conversations in a room of people we don’t know. However, taking out your phone to temporarily relieve your discomfort, fear or insecurity, can be detrimental in the long run. No one wants to approach and talk to someone who’s looking down at their phone. Those people who are passing you by could be great new contacts for a job or other professional opportunities.
When you’re on a bar or food station line, instead of checking Facebook or the score of the game, put your phone away and talk to the person next to you. You have a built in commonality – you’re both waiting to do the same thing! That person could end up being the best contact you meet at that event, but you’ll never know if you don’t look up from the mobile glow.
Other times to consider engaging in conversation instead of hiding behind your phone include when you arrive to register, check your coat or pick up your attendee badge. You can meet great contacts in these types of situations. Those emails you were going to check can wait a few more minutes, can’t they?
Before the Meeting Starts
When waiting for a meeting to start, do you find yourself taking out your phone to check email, stock prices or respond to a text? Everyone is busy and wants to be efficient, but engaging with others sitting around the table prior to the meeting is a perfect chance to have casual conversation or ask a question that may provide insight into something.
Those quick chats can enable you to start or enhance a relationship with a current or potential client, colleague from another department or division, vendor or strategic partner. It’s also a good time to engage with senior leaders, particularly if you’re trying to increase your visibility within your company. In contrast, if you’re on our phone, you minimize these professional opportunities.
Waiting for a Job Interview
When sitting in the reception area before an interview, you may want to calm your anxiety by taking out your phone as a distraction. Unless someone is sending you last-minute information that will help you make a more powerful impression on the person with whom you’re meeting, it’s better to pay attention to your surroundings. You can learn a lot about a company and its culture through observation. Is there an opportunity to chat with the receptionist? Are there marketing materials to peruse? When employees walk by, can you figure out the dress code? How is employee interaction – especially tone and level of collegiality? You won’t see these things if you’re reading your 23rd article about interviewing.
When you’re at a conference and sitting at a table for breakfast or lunch with people you don’t know, it’s a great time to make new connections instead of refreshing your inbox. Before the start of a keynote or breakout session, take advantage the chance to chat with the people you’re sitting next to. Someone to your left or right could be your next client, boss, colleague or great professional contact. If you’re unsure what to say, talk about the speakers, agenda, organizers or sponsors – anything to break the ice.
Professional Opportunities Are Elsewhere, Too
You don’t have to be at a meeting, conference or work event to put your phone away, start conversations and make or strengthen professional connections. Other instances include waiting for the elevator in your office building (particularly when you know there are companies in the building that you’d love to do business with or work for), when traveling and in social settings (e.g. wine tastings, holiday parties, golf outings). If you’re on your phone, you may not realize it, but you’re putting up a wall that impacts personal engagement.
In professional settings, if you’re always on your phone, that becomes part of how people see you and it can negatively impact your personal brand. If you really do have to check email before a meeting or event starts because of a deadline or other important reason, step into a hallway or corner away from the group, so it’s less obvious.
We’re all multi-taskers and phones are vital to our lives, but be aware of when and how frequently you’re on yours. Don’t miss out on opportunities to initiate or participate in conversations and connect and build relationships because you’re on your phone by habit. Take advantage of times when you have the potential to make good contacts and potentially uncover business and job opportunities.