So, you’ve landed a coffee meeting with a fellow professional, or thought leader in your industry. Fab! All of the red tape that comes along with just getting the meeting is now in your rear view, and it’s your job to make the most of the time you’ve managed to carve out of your coffee companion’s calendar. Unfortunately, getting the meeting is typically perceived as the ‘hard part’, and so often we end up flubbing our opportunity to network, secure a mentor, or get valuable advice because we don’t do the necessary work to make sure the actual meeting is a success.
The good news: you’re reading this blog post, which means, you actually give a crap about making the most out of this opportunity. After asking for countless informational interviews as an up-and-comer in the field myself, and eventually graduating into a role where I can give guidance to curious marketers and brand building enthusiasts, I can recall some of my biggest mistakes and most advantageous tactics. Of course, I can’t keep these valuable experiences all to myself, so below are my top tips to ensure you squeeze this berry for all of the juice, and become the master of the thirty minute meeting.
1. Pick a spot that allows you to sit and get down to business quickly.
Picking the trendy spot may be tempting, but focusing on function over form is going to be imperative. The last thing you want is to show up and spend half of your meeting looking for a place to sit down, or standing in line to order a chai latte. If you’re a coffee shop connoisseur, use your insider knowledge to your advantage to pick a spot that isn’t quite as popular, but the coffee (or tea) still doesn’t suck.
If you’re in Boston, I put together a round up of coffee shops, most of which make for great meeting locales.
2. Get there early.
Forget being on time. If someone is carving time out of their day, it’s your duty to get their early, stake out a table, text them for their coffee order, and have it ready for when they arrive. Maybe this is the hospitality nerd in me, but there’s no better way to start the meeting off on the right foot. This eliminates so many issues that come along with coffee meetings, including: deciding who pays, that awkward moment when you have to negotiate who guards the table and who goes to the counter to order, or trying to convince other patrons that “yes, that chair really is taken.”
3. Establish an agenda and stick to it.
Going in with a game plan is good. Articulating your game plan to your cappuccino comrade is great. Not only does it establish all of the topics you’re looking to cover, but it helps your counterpart craft their advice and responses to drive the conversation in the direction you were hoping. The agenda also helps you stay sensitive to time. You don’t want to spend too much time on one subject if that means you don’t get to address any of your other topics, so laying out your hopes for the meeting in advance can keep you both accountable for moving the conversation at a necessary pace.
4. If you have an ask, be clear and concise.
Not every coffee meeting needs to be accompanied by an ask, but the reality is, there is likely something you want from the person you asked to be there with you. Whether it be an introduction to a new business lead, a second pair of eyes on a proposal, or even a job interview, it is important to be explicit. And… the best way to ask for something? Give them a compliment, offer them a gift, and then ask. Here’s an example:
“I found your workshop at the conference incredibly informative, and even used a few of the tactics your mentioned to help streamline the sales component of my business. I’d love the opportunity to film you at your next speaking engagement, so you can share your presentation in an engaging way on social media – I think your digital community would find it valuable as well! And, if you know any other leaders in the industry who are considering video as a medium for sharing their expertise, I would be grateful if you would share my portfolio, which I sent to your email right before we sat down for coffee.”
5. Be curious on how you can be helpful.
My favorite line to ask during a coffee meeting is, “How can I provide you value?” This is a question better suited toward the end of the meeting when you’ve extracted some good tidbits to take home, and now you can turn the tables to see how you might have a positive impact in return. It may be helpful to come armed with a few examples of how you can envision being helpful, but this is also an opportunity to gather some insight on a fellow colleague or industry leader’s needs. The more you know and understand about where they could use some assistance, the better understanding of your industry’s landscape you will have.
6. Identify action items that you can hold yourself or each other accountable for.
If you’re meeting with a senior or experienced member of your field, it is important to demonstrate that you have not only heard their advice, but have established next steps to take it. For example, if they recommend you consistently publish actionable, and industry-relevant, tips to LinkedIn in an effort to grow your network, you could commit to posting every weekday and engaging with anyone who likes or comments on the posts. In three months, once you stick to the plan, you can reach out to your coffee meeting companion with evidence of your consistent posting and identify a few key performance metrics where you saw improvement after listening to their advice. Why is this important? One, it confirms to the person you’re meeting with that you value their advice and take it seriously. And two, if you ever reach out to them again, they know that their feedback isn’t falling on deaf ears.
Perhaps, on the flip side, you’re meeting with a colleague or peer in your industry. It may be helpful to both establish some action items, and agree to check in on each other in a mutually agreed amount of time. This is a solid foundation for seeing if this person may be good for a potential monthly check-in, or to invite someone to a mastermind.
7. Send a thank you or appropriate follow up.
Expressing your gratitude should be a no-brainer. Whether it be an email, phone call, or even a call out on social media, any and all efforts to acknowledge their time will not go unnoticed. Consider circling back on the gift you offered up from tip #4, or sending a hand-written note to hit the point home.