How to Have Effective Networking Meetings That Don’t Waste Each Others’ Time
Whether you’re looking for your next job, a mentor, new clients, or collaborators, there are many ways you can make one-on-one coffee meetings count. And then, of course, there are LOTS of ways to waste these precious opportunities.
Can we please stop with the coffee meetings that completely waste each others’ time?
Nobody wants you to “pick their brain” for an hour and feel like they just gave away their precious expertise for nothing and didn’t build a fruitful, meaningful relationship in the process.
There’s a much better way to leave one-on-one meetings in which both parties feel like they built a solid new relationship and got something out of it.
It’s all about forging meaningful connections through identifying shared values and then finding a way to take collective action.
Let me break down my recipe for building rock-solid new relationships:
1. Lead with Story
Explain who you are and WHY what you’re doing matters to you.
Why do you care? Why should I care? What is the underlying motivation that drives you each day? What’s your history and why did it lead you here?
Now this is a conversation, obviously, not a performance, so you’re going to want to keep it brief, but keep in mind that people aren’t moved by WHAT you’re doing, they get on board when they understand WHY you’re doing it.
Through sharing your personal story, demonstrate your values by explaining the choices you’ve made along the way. Why did you quit that job? Move to that city? Focus on that subject matter? What drew you to this meeting today?
This is your “story of self,” as organizers call it. It’s a motivating way to share who you are and what you care about.
It’s not an easy story to craft, either, but I’ll write more on that later. For now, check out the extensive resources available on the matter from my former professor, Marshall Ganz at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government here.
2. Find out what makes them tick
Just as it’s important that you share your underlying why behind the what that you do, you must figure out the underlying motivations of the person you’re sharing coffee with.
Ask-opened ended ‘why’ questions to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what choices they made along the way to land where they are now. Remain open, curious, and non-judgemental about what makes them do what they do.
The goal here is to find what common values you share – it’s that foundation of shared values that serves as the jumping-off point for collaboration.
3. Aim for the Magic X
The magic X is the the intersection between your shared values and diverse resources. Once you’ve both shared the why behind the “what you do,” the next step is to identify what unique resources you both bring to the table that can help further your shared values.
What do you have to share? Time? Energy? Resources? Connections? People-power?
And what are you in need of to move forward? Money? Job leads? Mentors? Negotiation help? A resume review?
What resources does the person you’re meeting with have that you lack?
Odds are, you’ve already done a good deal of thinking about this before asking them meet, but now’s the time to remain flexible and open to resources that you can uncover through conversation that you may not have learned about by stalking them on LinkedIn.
4. Make a clear ask
Once you’ve identified what resources you both bring to the table, ask for the specific help you need and want.
By this point in the conversation, you’ve already explained your motivations and hopefully bonded with the person about your shared values. So now is the time to offer up an opportunity to take action on those shared values.
Will you help me get introduced to the hiring managers at your company?
Will you co-host this event with me on the 30th?
Will you commit to bringing in 5 of your friends to our program?
Will you build this / write this / do this with me?
If the answer is “yes” or “maybe,” get specific about when, where and how you propose moving forward.
If the answer is in the negative, ask an open-ended question about how they suggest you proceed. You’d be surprised how many folks will offer up another way they can help or suggest you move forward.
Then – and this is key – offer up your own resources or assistance in helping them in return in furthering whatever goals or objectives you uncovered through your conversation. If you can’t think of anything concrete at the moment you can always say something like this:
Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you as well.
Wrap things up with gratitude and paint a clear picture of what is to come next.
5. Follow up
No matter how flawless your 1-on-1 meeting game is, the real magic is in the follow-up.
Send a timely (read: within 24 hours) email thanking them again for their time and delivering on any of what you promised you’d send along. Set clear expectations of how you’d like to move forward and send them any materials needed to do so.
Remember, this is just the start of an ongoing relationship. Keep in touch with these contacts even after they’re done helping you along your way. Invite them to events you’re heading to, share articles you think they’d find interesting, and just feel free to drop them a casual note of appreciation when you’re thinking about them.
Making 1-on-1 meetings a priority can be an incredibly effective strategy for advancing your career and all kinds of goals you’re pursuing. But how you conduct them is just as important.
By building authentic, reciprocal relationships, you’ll ensure that you’re growing your community, your power, and your knowledge base alongside people who share your values and want to see you succeed as much as you’re cheering them on in return.
Have you ever sat through a coffee meeting that felt like a total waste of time or left you feeling taken for a ride?
Share you experience in the comments below along with your thoughts on how to make the most of 1-on-1 meetings so that everyone leaves feeling stronger than before.
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