In order to pursue our purpose as fully as possible, we need to build our community of people who help us grow and encourage us to hustle. We have so much to learn from each other that can take our work to the next level!
There are always going to be people out there who know more about something than you or who have already worked through the point where you currently are, which is awesome. Take advantage of that! Learn from them! Use other people’s experiences and insights as a resource to take you farther, but be gracious and conscious of the fact that they are being generous with their time and knowledge by choosing to share it with you. Don’t take it lightly that people are choosing to pour into you. That is a gift!
I had a really uncomfortable meeting that made this point more poignant for me. A younger person--still in college--reached out and asked if we could talk. I was super busy with travel, but I try to always make time for students who reach out when I can. I said sure, and my assistant booked the meeting. She called me, but it was 22 minutes late, and I had assumed that it was canceled. I was actually at the store with my son. When she finally called, I told her that I couldn't talk, and she asked if she could reschedule. I have made timing mistakes before, so I said sure. When I got off the phone I realized that she never apologized. I chalked it up to nerves.
When we were able to get another call on the phone, I was caught off guard and frustrated by the basic kinds of questions she asked me about where I worked and what other jobs I had before that--things that she could have easily found online. We were already connected on Linkedin, so she had access to all of my company information. I could tell she was not listening intently to the answers I was giving her because she kept asking the same redundant questions.
This woman did not introduce herself or explain why she wanted to talk to me. She never gave much context for why she reached out to me in the first place. In general, I felt pretty annoyed by the situation, but I saw it as a teaching moment.
I cut the woman off and asked her some questions: How did you prepare for this meeting? What were you hoping to get out of it? Why did you reach out to me? What could I answer that other people couldn't? How did she think she was making me feel, given that I was having a free conversation with her that I make other people pay for? She had no answers. I told her that my intention was not to embarrass her, but rather to make sure she would be more successful in future networking meetings.
Then, I gave her this advice, my three biggest tips for crushing your next networking meeting:
1. Spend 10 minutes googling the person.
I know that this might seem obvious to some, but it is not to all. If you take the time to find out the basic information about the person you are meeting, you are more likely to find your common connections much faster. Knowing tidbits of information that are beyond just where they work is really a great way to get the conversation started and build a relationship. Also, if you know the basic things about someone before your meeting, it allows you to ask more in-depth or creative questions that will serve you and your purpose much better in the long run.
2. Have an “agenda.”
I don't mean go into your meeting with some kind of secret plan. Instead, in your mind have a general outline of what you would like to talk about and what the flow of the conversation should be like. Be intentional about how you hope the meeting will go and what you both will gain from chatting with each other. Share your intention and goals with the person you are meeting with before or immediately at the start of the meeting so you can both make the best use of your time. If people know where you are headed and what your interests are, they are able to get to the point right away. You don't have to hold to it strictly, but at least having a tentative plan will keep you focused and will make your meeting more worthwhile.
3. Always know what your ask is going to be, or have a few in your back pocket.
I used to think that it was rude to ask for people to help me. Then I realized from being on the other end of the conversation that it was frustrating to have people request time from me without having a specific way that I could help them in mind. I found myself actually getting offended when people didn’t tell me how they’d like me to help them. I felt that if there wasn’t anything they were hoping I could offer them, then maybe we were wasting our time meeting in the first place. However, when I did meet with people who were gracious but also clear about what they wanted, I really appreciated it. It made me see that they were thoughtful in reaching out to me. They scheduled the meeting with purpose. If you’re not sure what to ask someone, my favorite questions that are ALWAYS applicable are: Who should I be reaching out to in addition to you? and, What should I be asking that I have not already?
When you are thoughtful about the time you have with someone and grateful about their willingness to talk with you, odds are, you will learn more than you ever anticipated. Most people are eager to help others and pass on what they know, especially to the next generation, but they also want to feel respected and valued in the process. Together we can help each other better live into our purposes!