"Can I pick your brain?"
"[Our mutual acquaintance] suggested we meet."
Live meetings are what really count when it comes to networking, particularly the first meeting with a new connection. Whether you’re looking for information or advice, trying to advance your career, or making a pitch, that initial meeting sets the stage for all future interactions (or lack thereof) so be ready to make the most of it by following these 5 tips.
- Set up for success. Allow your contact to select the day, time and location that’s most convenient for them and try to be as flexible as possible; follow up with a calendar invite to avoid mix-ups. Try to meet in person if possible; video chat is the next best thing if you don’t live nearby. Offer to come to their office or suggest a neutral location, like a coffee shop. Respect their time and end on time or early.
- Open with a recap. People are busy, there may be a time lag between the connection and the actual meeting, or they may just need a refresher. Start the conversation by summarizing who you are, how you found them or who referred them, and why you’re speaking today and what you hope to get out of it. This sets a common foundation to start the conversation off on the right note.
- Listen more than you talk. You’re meeting with this person because you’re looking for their expertise, their connections, or their business. So lead the conversation if you asked for the meeting, but ask lots of open-ended responses and listen to their answers. I like taking notes with pen and paper because it forces me to focus, makes the other person feel like their information is valuable, and is helpful to reference later.
- Ask for additional connections/referrals. This may be purely an informational meeting for you or an informal sales pitch, but either way, the person sitting in front of you has their own network and resources that may be able to help you further. Near the end of the meeting, ask these questions, “is there anyone else you know that you think I should talk to about this?” and “is there anything else you can think of that might help me with this?” The first might get you some valuable new professional contacts or potential clients and the second might reveal new informational resources or contacts, relevant books/articles/sites, etc.
- Look for ways to help them. Yes, the primary reason you asked for this meeting was because you need something, but that doesn’t mean you can’t return the favor. This can take the interaction from one-way toward actually building a relationship. Maybe you can recommend an interesting book or article, beta test or spread the word about their next new thing, or provide introductions within your own network. A relationship can only thrive when both parties get value out of it, so always conclude networking meetings with one simple question, “is there anything I can do to help you?”.
Networking doesn’t have to be painful or cheesy—setting the meeting up for success, opening with a recap, listening more than you talk, asking for additional connections and looking for ways you can help them will all help you to maximize these valuable opportunities and build your network further.