Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Conference Etiquette: The Old-fashioned Business Card Still Rules

The demise of paper-based business cards has been predicted for just about as long as technologists have been promising a paperless office. 

Anyone recall the days of geeks with HP ipaqs and PalmPilots aiming their PDAs at each other trying to beam contact information?

You can now do it with mobile phones, but in the eight technology-heavy conferences I have been to this year, I haven’t seen a single person try to do a phone-to-phone data link.

The business card, it seems, isn't going down without a fight.

Conference Etiquette:  The Business Card Reigns

Business cards are low-tech, simple and convenient. 

Conference Etiquette:  Old-fashioned business card images
A selection of the author's business cards,
with his dogs on them, make people
remember you. 
They don’t run out of power, they're compatible with all other business cards, and you carry a couple of spares in your wallet for unexpected meetings with someone you might want to link with professionally (or personally). 

Since they have been a staple of business meetings and conferences for such a long time, you’d think men would have learned to organize their attire so they can give out their own cards and not a card belonging to the last person they talked to. 

It's easy to avoid looking clumsy or disorganized.

I usually wear a suit or a sports coat at conferences and keep my own business cards in the breast pocket of the jacket and put cards that I receive into an inside pocket. 

As a reporter and photographer I usually have a computer or camera bag with me. When I'm not wearing a jacket I stuff the outside pockets with my own cards so I can reach them easily. I imagine women could select similarly useful handbags for use at meetings so they don’t have to fumble.

It’s not unusual at conferences to run into someone who forgot to bring cards. I stuff them into the computer and camera bags I use regularly and try to keep a supply in my favorite travel bag to guard against this oversight.


For capturing data from cards, a dedicated scanner with optical character recognition (OCR) is probably the simplest. I used a CardScan that did a good job of capturing data which I then moved to Outlook on my PC. However, when I moved to a MacBook Air and had to buy a new CardScan to work with iOS,  the performance was so poor I sent it back. 

Some flatbed scanners can do business cards, but the mobile phone may hold the best answer. LinkedIn bought a company called CardMunch that lets a LinkedIn member photograph a business card with an iPhone, upload the image and get an electronic record back. The app is free on iTunes, works only with iOS, and the cards are transcribed for free rather than processed by OCR. It does not support bulk transfer to PCs.

The app can also be set to invite the cardholder you’ve just met to connect with you on LinkedIn. 

Follow Up!

Even without an app to do this, some networkers suggest that you use every business card you collect to email or ask the card owner to connect with you on Linkedin, leading professional social network. You’ll have their email address in front of you and it’s a good opportunity to remind them you’ve met while they might still remember.

Capturing data from cards raises another topic – keep your cards readable. Yellow on orange, or black on dark gray, are not only hard for people to read, they are hard for scanners to read.

Keep the size of the card consistent. Some card companies are offering ostensibly eco-friendly half-size cards which are hard to handle, fall out of the pack and are a pain to scan. Ride a bike to work if you want to be eco-friendly, but use full-sized business cards.

My favorite supplier is MOO, an English company that now operates from Providence, RI as well. I can print 50 different pictures on 50 cards so I intersperse pictures from financial centers like London and New York with images of our dogs running and swimming. 

People enjoy them, and most importantly, might even remember me. And that, after all, is the whole point right?

Tom Groenfeldt
Tom Groenfeldt is a longtime journalist and conference connoisseur who writes about financial technology at Forbes. He's a regular contributor to the Peninsula Pulse, an independent newspaper in Door County, Wisconsin.