Literature provides direction for meaningful exploration.....
Meeting people is an essence of life – call it networking if you will, the most fruitful way forward is from connecting with others. Sometimes for counsel, sometimes to hear and discuss another perspective, sometimes to practice pitching an idea, sometimes for a job/an engagement, and sometimes it’s the start of an undefined exploration.
I reach out to people actively, more so during times of transition. I love meeting people. Not the “happy hour type, don’t know random folks, I feel like wallpaper” type of meetings. But all game for 1-1s. Pre-meeting is always a bit discombobulating and post-meeting is, in most cases, a high. My meetings usually lasted a good hour to 90mts. Even when the meeting invitation said 30mts, it invariably stretched to the telltale hour. The longer it went, the better the connection I thought I was making with my attendee.
A couple of years back, I reached out to a contact (let’s call him Mr. X) who was introduced to me through a friend. Mr. X had been running sales workshops for startups and I wanted to meet him. I was intrigued by some of his work and wanted to learn more about how he got from A to B in his career. Perhaps it was a path I wanted for myself. I was plenty excited and reached out after a warm introduction and offered to take him to coffee for 20mts. He promptly responded with a link to set up exactly a 20 minute meeting (I got what I asked for!) and a link to an article “Never Ask a Busy Executive Out to Lunch.”
I was mortified. And annoyed as heck. First I had asked to meet for coffee, right next to his office or bring coffee to his office. Second, what’s wrong with lunch when people need to eat? I don’t completely buy into banning lunches as part of networking, but I had to admit that there was a lot of truth to the article. Lunches are time sucks and folks who have a lot going on usually don’t have that kind of time to spend on someone they have been introduced to, no matter how much they want to help.
The meeting with Mr. X was fruitful. It was my most productive meeting yet. And Mr. X turned out to be one of my best connections. He introduced me to other people, gave me access to valuable resources and I learned what I wanted to from him. It took exactly 20mts.
I became and still am a fan of 20 minute meetings. Especially when meeting new people. And, in many cases, people you already know. It may not work for some situations, but often it’s enough for 1-1s, status updates etc. It is efficiency at its best and good karma all around. I never believed it could work, but they do. Just requires a bit of thought to make it successful.
What did I learn?
Start and end on time: Set expectations to start and end meetings on time. Beyond being respectful of people’s time, really sticking to 20mts trains people to adapt the right mindset. There is a sense of urgency and purpose in attendees. People are more focused, more aware of every passing minute to get things done. Ever noticed focus and attention in game show participants racing against the clock? This is the same. Knowing that the meeting is only going to last 20mts forces everyone to prepare beforehand, be it reading material or considering their goals for the meeting.
Know exactly what you are after: Spend a few minutes thinking carefully about what outcome you are after from the meeting. It can’t be “simply make a connection”. Such meetings have a way of meandering into frustration land for both parties. You must be clear about what you want to learn/what message you want to convey. Distil it to two key items. Just two. What are the two most important things that this person can tell you that you cannot glean from anyone or anywhere else? Relegate less important items for a future follow-up or for a quick email follow-up.
My goals for the meeting with Mr. X were clear – based on his experience did he think there was a market for a certain service, what are a couple of recommendations/counsel he has for me as next steps based on what my goals are? I could have asked him about how he got where he did, his journey etc. but figured my life situation is not the same as his so didn’t want to spend the time on the lead up.
Share a common experience: Not all conversations call for this, but take the opportunity at the beginning of the call to bring some human element into the conversation. It’s not all about the agenda and questions and action items. It only takes a minute or two and makes the rest of the conversation go smoothly. I am not referring to chatting about the weather or scores from the ball game (folks can look up stats on websites. I have yet to see a discussion on humidity levels lead to camaraderie).
Instead, share an experience tied to the meeting agenda that helps you connect to the meeting attendee. For example, when I reached out to Mr. X, I wanted to learn more about his consulting practice. At the outset of the call I asked him what made him switch from a lucrative paying job to consulting. He mentioned wanting to spend more time with kids. I shared a crazy experience I had during work that gave me a scare about my children, he had had something similar happen. Boom! We connected!
Be bold: There’s only 20mts, so ask what you need to, straight up. There might not be another chance to meet this person. If you let this opportunity go, the question or valuable opinion may be moot by the next meeting. So, let your voice be heard. Asking bold questions is great for credibility and building self-confidence. Meeting attendees will thank you for getting straight to the point. Everyone has important things to do and places to be. Same applies to making decisions. Prior preparation is key. But given a limited time window, people are more willing to push the envelope and make decisions. Take advantage!
Act: Spend the last few minutes of the meeting summarizing key aspects and building next steps to get live commitment/support. Earnestness during the meeting often translates to earnestness post meeting. People get to action items faster, likely within a few hours or a day. On my call with Mr. X, I asked to be introduced specifically to another person, asked for notes from a workshop, asked for a book recommendation and asked for a collated list of specific contacts. I had everything in 24hrs. 20mts forces people into high intensity mode and the same intensity often translates to acting on action items. Goes with the territory but be nice, offer to help and keep up your end of the action item list as well.
Asking someone for only 20mts of their time makes it more likely that they show up to the meeting. Most people have 20mts to spare in the day. But if you let it drag on to 45mts, an hour or longer, the goodwill evaporates quickly. So, plan, and show up with your focused self for those 20mts. No calls, no texting, no email. Over time, navigating short intense meetings also hones your skill in efficiently and effectively making people stay on course, thinking on the fly and quite simply getting things done. Its 20mts that pays for itself in many ways.
Less time in meetings = Freedom! Try it!
You can find one perspective on asking new connections to lunch here
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