In Defense of the Business Card

Sometime about a year ago I was at happy hour with some local technical people and a person visiting from a nearby state who was promoting a regional approach to building a tech community. I showed up a little late so I was the last to introduce myself to the person. He asked me what I did (in that way where you have to respond in “pitch” style) and we followed up with some small talk about his plans and goals for the organization. At the end of our brief exchange I gave him one of my business cards and asked him for one of his own. His response was “business cards are soooo… 2010”. Instead he offered a text number which I was to ping and submit a name he provided me. The process was simple enough (now I occasionally use the same service) but there were a couple of things that I couldn’t stop thinking about after this exchange.

First, I think anytime you are in a business setting, even a technical group setting like that one, it requires a certain level of etiquette. I never met this person before and he never met me. To dismiss something as common a a business card was…well…rude. Even the people that were there witnessing this were a bit uncomfortable. I am quite sure a lot of them had pockets full of business cards but suddenly became unsure about whether or not they should throw theirs out and risk being labeled behind the times. Look..I am as thick skinned as the next person but I couldn’t help wonder why would someone be so outwardly dismissive of such a personal and important ritual that business people have used for centuries.

Secondly, and more importantly I think handing out business cards is important. I love handing someone this small piece of paper that prominently shows my company’s logo and name. A properly designed business card can create an immediate connection and conversation piece. I often get compliments on our logo and enjoy talking about its origin. When I was in China several years ago I realized that the exchange of business cards was an important thing to do when meeting someone for the first time. It was more about the ceremony of exchanging the cards and less about the content (though having your title on the card was important to show was was the senior person in the group). I wonder how my Chinese hosts would have responded if I simply said “text this number and enter sean____”?

Being in the tech industry I understand that being disruptive is good but I also believe that there are some things that do not need to be disrupted. The ritual of swapping business cards provides a little bit of a personal touch that is so often missing in times when it is easier to simply “LinkedIn” someone. Even the person who sheepishly and covertly handed me their card when I was leaving the aforementioned meeting understood this.

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