No matter what kind of business traveler you are, you're likely often looking for places to network. One of those places that many people forget or even feel awkward about is during a business flight. However, there are ways of approaching this that can end with positive results.
Because I travel so often, I've picked up a few tricks on how to make the approach (hint: timing is everything). There are a few things to be aware of, and there are certain times when approaching is appropriate. While you may not know if the person next to you is worth approaching, I find that if they seem open to chatting, it doesn't hurt to introduce yourself.
Here are a few tips to consider when networking on your business flight:
1. Have a solid introduction.
This is one of the most important factors when trying to network. If you go into a long spiel about your work, it won't come across properly.
Instead, open with something relevant to your flight, airport, or destination. Ask if they enjoy traveling, if they're traveling for business, or if they have ever been to your mutual destination. From there, you can introduce yourself and give a very brief (no longer than one minute) elevator pitch.
If you get only a short answer, or see your fellow passenger put on headphones or open a book, take the hint and let it go. You don't want to be that person.
2. Know the right time to approach.
There are a few windows of opportunity when approaching. For instance, when you are waiting for other passengers to get situated, you may want to break the ice by commenting on the airline, your seats, or the airport. Try to stick to something relevant to your current situation.
Another good time you can use to engage in conversation is when an overhead announcement is made. You can use the opportunity to ask your fellow passenger to repeat what was said. From there, you can segue the conversation into an introduction, perhaps by mentioning that you're traveling for business and were hoping they weren't making an announcement about a delay.
I've personally found that one of the best times to connect is during the in-flight beverage service. Usually, people wake up, open up their tray tables, and readjust. As they wait for their beverage, I take the opportunity to spark up a conversation about staying hydrated, especially because I'm traveling for business. Then I make my introductions.
3. Have no expectations.
When you have expectations, you may become a bit too preoccupied with the strategy. In turn, it could mess with the natural flow of the conversation. Plus, people will likely be able to tell that your conversation isn't genuine.
Instead, go with the flow and build trust along the way. Mention what you do but, more important, enjoy the chat. You'll likely be more memorable that way.
Once, a young consultant who was on his first business trip asked me for travel tips after he saw me disinfecting my tray table and area. He asked me how to travel and avoid getting sick. We ended up chatting the entire flight and exchanged business cards.
A few weeks later, one of my good friends needed a consultant for her line of work. I instantly thought of my seatmate. Because he had made such a good impression, I felt confident enough to give her his information, and he ended up becoming one of her employees.
4. Follow up.
If you do end up exchanging information, follow up on it. A thank-you email is always a nice gesture. Plus, you can use it as an opportunity to continue a conversation.
You may want to thank them for the good conversation. You could briefly mention something that was particularly enjoyable or funny that happened, and let them know that you'd love to continue chatting about a project you're working on that might be beneficial to them.
Maybe even include a link to something they might enjoy reading the next time they fly. It doesn't hurt to ask.