The people you meet in the air could become the saviours of your small business. Photo: Getty Images
Forget Twitter for a second and think about a potentially tremendous networking platform: the passenger jet. Any airline flight is likely to be peppered with powerful people who cannot escape.
If you are canny enough, you can turn chit-chat conducted at 35,000 feet into connections that give your small business added oomph.
Consultant and speaker Peter Taliangis, who describes in-flight networking as fun, gives his take on how it is done.
For starters, Taliangis suggests, wear a T-shirt boldly displaying your business logo.
Get to the departure lounge early and try a spot of networking there.
Also arrive at the gate early to see who else is on the flight. Be one of the first travellers aboard and grab a seat near the front, so you can see everybody file down the aisle.
Next, as you start work, unpack a brochure or folder showing your company name, and greet as many passengers as possible.
After striking up a conversation with one, take a step that might initially seem counterproductive.
"Excuse yourself out of the conversation," says Taliangis. You need to give your neighbour an exit in case you are talking too much, he says.
One way is to visit the toilet, even if you don't need to go.
There, Taliangis says, leave one of your business cards, and drop another on the floor elsewhere.
Back at your seat, let your budding acquaintance restart the conversation, should they want to. Talk about topics other than work as soon as possible; find common ground quickly by asking what they do for fun.
Taliangis says: "Ask about their family, where they live. Do they follow the football, cricket?" Avoid politics and religion, he says.
Be wary of spilling food or drinks on your prospective contact, and do not be rude to the airline stewards. Say please and thank-you often, because politeness will win you points with other passengers and the attendants, making for a smooth, successful trip.
Rhett Morris, a Qantas platinum frequent flyer, who runs the consultancy Bulletproof People, also highlights the value of showing your logo – only he means the one that you should have as your screensaver, which will be revealed as you open your laptop.
If your business name is quirky like his, curiosity should kick in. Expect a comment, followed by an inquiry about what you do, Morris says.
Another way to spark curiosity is to read or edit a document with a catchy business-slanted heading, he says, adding that, for his work, he writes articles on eye-catching subjects including harassment.
Whatever you are reading, your neighbour will notice.
"People can't help snooping at what someone else is reading or writing on a plane," says Morris.
If you want to grab attention, think "less is more", especially if you are in business class or the first two rows of economy class, next to busy, badgered executives.
Play it soft, Morris suggests. For instance, open the conversation by asking your neighbour if the reason for their trip is business or pleasure. "That triggers a good convo," he says.
But, he warns, tune in to body language - if it shows that your neighbour obviously does not want to talk, do not push your luck. Overselling will damage your brand.
Boost your chances of building rapport by presenting a pleasant persona. Avoid drinking or eating too much, because that smacks of indiscipline. Likewise, try not to nod off and snore because that lapse will stick in the mind of your neighbour more than your product.
Help your fellow passengers with their bags and let others go in front of you, Morris says.
The effort could well pay off because, as small business mentor Rhondalynn Korolak notes, you never know who you will meet.
"I have literally met GM-level managers and directors at some of the top Australian companies - Telstra, Mercedes, etc - on Qantas flights and struck up conversations that turned into meetings and consulting work," she says.
On the plane, such bigwigs do not want to hear a sales pitch, but in her view they are keen to talk about work - what they do.
"My advice? Take your time. Ask lots of questions. Dig for key areas of pain in their business that they need help with." Then see if they want to meet for coffee the following week.
Meanwhile, Korolak says, the secret is to keep asking questions, so you know what to talk about in your follow-up meeting and proposal, should you send one.