So you are looking to schedule a meeting with someone you don’t know very well…
- What is the correct protocol to ask for a meeting ?
- How do you get the meeting without seeming like a jerk?
- What if they turn you down?
These questions can cause you anxiety, especially if you're an introvert who is not good at talking to new people (like myself).
Below are my tips for how I approach getting a meeting with someone new:
How To Get A Meeting
1. Have Context
I generally avoid asking someone for a meeting that I don't have context for. I define “context" as a point of reference… either you met them at an event, or you know someone who knows them, or you're a big fan. Context is anything reason valuable enough for you to reach out to them.
Request a follow-up meeting on the spot
If I talk to someone at an event, I try to get a follow up while the conversation is still fresh.
Example: “I would love to chat more about ABC, would you be interested in grabbing coffee or lunch sometime this week?” If possible pull your phone out and send a meeting invite right away.
Get their business card
Make sure you write some information about the discussion on the back of the card to refresh your memory if you send out an invite later on. When you send out a email after an event, be sure to mention where you met them and what you discussed, e.g. “It was great meeting you at the fundraiser on Friday. I enjoyed chatting with you about ABC. Per our discussion, I would love to grab a meeting this week to chat more about ABC."
Find mutual friends or contacts
LinkedIn can be pretty useful for figuring out who knows who. If someone you know has a connection with the person, don’t be afraid to ask them for an intro. e.g. “Hey Jamie, I am looking to reach out to Kris Smith to pick his brain about mobile UX. His presentation on his blog really resonated with me. I saw on LinkedIn your are connected to him. Would you be able to introduce me?”
The key is giving them a sense of why you want to talk to the person and allow them to filter the information in advanced of introducing you. The more details the better. This will allow them to provide as much information as possible.
Important: Do not burn someone who referred you. If someone refers you and you piss off their connection, they may never refer you to someone again.
You're a “fan” of their work
Being a fan of someone’s work can be flattering, but it can also come across kinda creepy. I would recommend having a strong reason to reach out to someone if you're a fan. If you aren't able to meet the person at an event or get a referral, you have to go with the old “cold request”.
When you send a cold request, you need to be very clear about why you want to meet them. If you send a email that reads: “Hey, I would like to have a meeting with you. Thanks!” - you probably won't get a response. Your intro should be very clearly crafted.
Example: “ Hi Kris, My name is Brett Cooper and I do mobile dev work on iOS projects for a company here in Atlanta. I saw you speak last year at Web Afternoon, and I really enjoyed your presentation. I was wondering if could buy you lunch and pick your brain about a mobile problem that I'm looking to solve around multi screen size format. Do you have any availability this Thursday or Friday? Thanks!”
2. Scheduling the meeting
So they respond back to your meeting request with “Sure, what time do you want to meet?” Your objective is to quickly get something set on the calendar.
- The calendar game - My rule of thumb is to ask for 2-3 time slots within the next 5 days. If they can’t meet any of the time slots, ask them for some alternatives.
- Target the morning - Try to get something first thing in the morning (e.g. a coffee meeting) so you are less likely to get bumped because one of their other meetings ran late.
- If all else fails, try the phone - If you are struggling to get something scheduled, ask if you can do a quick 90 second phone call to resolve calendar alignment issues.
- Pick a specific location - Try and pick a specific location near where they work or ask them if it would be most convenient to meet at their office. The more specific you are in the request, the more likely it will be to that you successfully schedule the meeting.
- The invite format- When you schedule a meeting, send out a calendar invite to make sure each attendees time gets blocked on their calendars .
The key things you should include in a meeting invite are:
- Title - the Title of the meeting invite should be clear on what the meeting is about.
- Location - Include the location in both the location field and body/comments. Preferable the the address if you are driving there.
- Summary - Have a summary of the meeting request in the body.
- Objective - Clearly state the objective of the meeting.
- Agenda - When you send a meeting invite, make sure to have a clear agenda (with some time-boxing). Thinking about the agenda and time boxes ahead of time will help you get a clearer picture of what you want to talk about and whether you actually have enough time to cover everything.
- Notification - Be sure to included a notification equal to the amount of travel time (or 5 minutes if it doesn’t require travel).
- Contact - Include your cell phone and their cell number (if possible). This makes it easy for them to reach you if they are running late.
- Use helpful tools - There are a lot of tools out there that try to solve the scheduling puzzle. I had previously used tungle, Assistant.to, Timebridge.com, ScheduleOnce.com, and Calendly.com. These tools can be very useful for larger groups, but I would stick with emails and the phone for 1:1 meeting scheduling.
- Try A.I. - Recently I tried out https://x.ai/ which offers a virtual personal assistant AI that will work to look at your calendar and coordinate with multiple other parties to finalize a meeting time. The experience was pretty smooth, but it did still require 2-3 emails to get the meeting finalized.
Here is an example of a meeting invite.
Title: Cooper / Kris Meeting to talk about Mobile UX Challenges
Attendees: Brett Cooper, Kris K.
Location: Octane Coffee Emory Village
Reminder: 15 minutes before
Per our email discussion, I would like to grab coffee and pick your brain on mobile UX topics
Discuss mobile UX challenges on iOS 8.
1. Intro and key problem areas - 5m
2. Deep dive into use cases - 15m
3. Discussion and Recommendations - 20m
4. Next steps / take-aways - 10m
Brett's cell: 855-529-6349
3. Follow-up After the Meeting
Having a post-meeting reason to discuss things is a good way to build a longer term relationship or conversation.
Send a thank you email - Send a note thanking the person for meeting with you. I will also typically include any meeting notes and any action items that I took away from the meeting. I know some people who send classy hand-written thank you notes, but I have the worst handwriting… so I normally stick with an email thank you.
Try to followup within 2-5 days - Try to followup with any actions you had within a week of the meeting. You want to show that you were seriously paying attention and valued their help and input.
Offer reciprocal help - Be sure to offer your reciprocal help if they helped you with something. Keep it simple: “ Tina, Thanks for your recommendations on sales frameworks, this will really help me out. I owe you one. Let me know if i can help you with anything."
Leave the door open for next steps - If someone gives you advice about a situation or challenge you are facing, have a followup status that you send them in the future to show how you resolved it or how it played out.
Mail 2-3 times before you give up. More than 3 times verges on stalking, annoying, desperate, or even worse… being a sales guy.
Don’t expect someone to work miracles for you.
Time is a very valuable commodity, don’t waste someone else’s time.
Get out and meet people, build valuable relationships, and help other people out... it will eventually come around to you.
Be grateful. Life is full of people who are looking to help out where they can. Be thankful even for small amounts of help.