You practice your smile in the mirror; rehearse your ‘lines’; and put on your best frock. All tricks aimed at showing you to your best advantage while conveying a relaxed, confident demeanour.
You have the opportunity to connect with someone who could increase your circle of contacts, introduce your next employer, provide valuable business advice or simply inject some inspiration into a dull or difficult work week. Although this is not a date, the mechanics and dynamics of business-related ‘coffee meetings’ are the same.
As a freelancer, I always need to be on the lookout for networking opportunities. Initial meetings with new contacts, be they potential collaborators, head hunters or employers, can be nerve-wracking, especially if you tend towards the introverted side of the spectrum. Whether the situation is formal or relaxed, it’s important to make the right first impression, irrespective of which side of the coffee table you are sitting on.
A recent experience drove this fact home to me faster than a barista brewing my next cappuccino.
A potential business ally had expressed an interest in meeting up. This was a ‘look see decide’ foray, an opportunity to explore synergies… nothing more, possibly less.
I scheduled an exploratory chat, and sent a reminder ‘hi’ mail an hour before the meeting. Arriving 10 minutes early, I did an email check on my phone. There was a reply from my ‘date, sent while I was driving.
I had been stood up. Not in the nastiest way, but not in the nicest way either.
Tsk, tsk, sigh… these things do happen. But even if it’s just a quick chat over a chai latte, you never know where a first encounter might take you, so this was a lost opportunity for both of us.
The up side of being stood up? It got me thinking about ways to create positive professional impressions, whether you are the meeting maker or taker:
1. Be Prepared
Do some background research on the person you are meeting. Knowing how they might fit into your work landscape helps you to formulate the right questions to discover or develop synergies.
Dress according to the tone and location of the meeting and the time of day.
2. Be Prompt
Arrive on time. If you need to postpone or cancel at short notice, call the person to ensure they get the message in time.
Be clear about the reasons why you are ditching them. Vagueness implies avoidance.
3. Be Polite
Yes, you are giving up your precious time but so are they, so respect that.
A meeting involves commitment, compromise and consideration. If you agree to a meeting, have the good manners to show up. Put your phone on silent and give all of your attention to the person opposite you.
If you don’t feel comfortable making contact, then don’t let it get to meeting stage. Give a valid explanation if you see no point in connecting.
4. Be Generous
Knowledge sharing is an essential part of collaboration and the act of giving does come around to reward you in return, sometimes in ways you least expect.
Follow up after the meeting with a quick thank you message. If you promised to provide further information or supply feedback, then do so.
If you arranged the meeting, then foot the bill, unless mutually agreed. Choose a venue convenient for both of you and be conscious that not everyone drinks coffee.
5. Be Brave
Just like dating, it can be scary putting yourself out there to meet new business people. Those you are meeting may have similar fears.
It starts and continues with a conversation. Be the kind of person you would like to meet – confident and relaxed. Fake it if you have to, but do it.
Be open about what you hope to gain from hooking up. Rejection can be painful but it can also help you grow and learn.
If you do get stood up, use it to your advantage. Plan your next assignment, write a grocery list, read the paper or relax. See it as a window of opportunity for some unexpected ‘me’ time.
What tips do you have to smooth the way for fruitful business encounters?
This article is adapted from a Mapula blog published in January 2014.
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