You finally did it. You nailed down an appointment with a key influencer in your industry, a respected leader in your company, or a potential, major client.
A little preparation for an important chat will go a long way to make sure it’s valuable for both of you. Here are five things to do before and during your conversation:
1. Do Your Homework
Movers and shakers will expect you’ve done your homework before you arrive…and almost all of them will have some kind of online presence you can research.
Find articles they have written or been featured in online. Read their biography posted on their organization’s website. Check press releases from their company (often the best indicator of the message their organization is trying to get out in the world).
Find out what social media networks they are active on, especially ones suited for professional activity, like LinkedIn and Twitter. Reading their profile, recent postings, and responses to others will give you direct insight on their thinking.
Finally, consider others in your company or industry who have a relationship already with the person you’re meeting. They’re often the best source of advice on how to make the most of a conversation.
2. Prepare Talking Points
Here’s where you’ll put together your homework with the reason you requested the meeting.
For example, if you’re thinking the other party could become a formal or informal mentor to you, take note of their major career successes that line up with your goals.
If you’re thinking they could become a customer, note the most important parts of their business that are featured online.
Once you know where their experience lines up with your objectives, create a short list of talking points. You’ll use these to guide your chat if your nerves get the better of you.
Here’s what a list of talking points might look like:
NYT article I found
MBA @ Pepperdine
Keep the talking points concise…a few words or a phrase for each one, at most.
3. Share Something Helpful
If you go a great job with step 1, you’ll come across others resources that will inevitably be of interest to them. Select an article you find, an online resource, a podcast — or something else that directly relates to their area of interest.
Pass along that resource when you meet with them. Sometimes they’ll already be aware of it — and sometimes you’ll alert them to something new. Either way, it’s a great way to open a conversation and also demonstrate your interest in their areas of expertise.
Caution: be wary of bringing physical gifts of any value. This can land awkwardly or seem manipulative. Plus, some companies and industries have ethical rules against it.
4. Set Aside the Talking Points
I’ve had chats with people a few times in my career where it was apparent that they scripted out every question they were going to ask.
While it’s nice that the prepared for the conversation, there are two major drawbacks to scripting out questions:
You kill the opportunity for any kind of spontaneous (i.e. real) conversation.
You miss chances to go deeper with insightful comments the other party makes.
Don’t script out questions. Talking points should only serve as your prompts if you forget where to go next.
Ask a question about a talking point, listen, and be curious. If someone says something of interest, ask more about it. If they make reference to something you don’t know about, ask what it is.
5. Suggest a Next Step
While it’s important that you start off on the right foot, the real value in most relationships is what happens over time. A great initial meeting is little value without a next step.
Decide in advance a few options for next steps. If you’re seeking an informal mentor it could be something as simple as this:
"Thanks for all the examples on how you managed change with your team. I’m going to take action on [something they suggested]. Would it be OK to connect with you again next quarter so I could report back on what I’ve done with your ideas?"
Also be open to next steps they bring up. Sometimes the other party will make a suggestion for a next step that you never assumed could happen.